Interstate ‘eyes’ monitor traffic

Drivers along I-77 north of Marietta have noticed what seem to be solar-powered cameras mounted on utility poles every couple of miles on the northbound and southbound sides of the highway.

“They may look like cameras, but they’re not. They’re actually speed sensors,” said David Rose, public information officer with Ohio Department of Transportation District 10, which includes Marietta.

He said the sensors are part of ODOT’s Intelligent Traffic System (ITS) that uses such high-tech devices on major roadways to provide ODOT and the traveling public with accurate, real-time traffic data through the state’s website.

“It’s really just a radar speed sensor that feeds all the information to our Traffic Management Center in Columbus where the data is instantly fed to the site. And anyone can access that site through a laptop or desktop computer, tablet or other mobile device,” Rose said.

The Ohgo site includes a state map that allows users to click on a particular roadway and determine potential traffic issues along that route. If traffic is traveling at 50 mph or more the map will show that roadway as green. Traffic running between 26 and 49 mph will be indicated by a yellow roadway, and a red route indicates traffic moving at 25 mph or less.

“Someone who’s commuting between Marietta and the Caldwell area, for example, can see if there are any traffic issues before they leave home,” Rose said, adding that if traffic is traveling slow, perhaps due to a lane closure or accident, an icon will pop up on the map. Clicking on the icon will provide a brief explanation of what’s causing the delay.

He said the sensors have been used in metro areas for some time, but the ones along I-77 in Southeast Ohio have only been placed in service within the last year.

“The ultimate goal is to increase the safety of motorists by providing information that can help them identify areas of traffic congestion ahead of time and make adjustments to travel around those areas,” Rose said. “That helps improve travel time and cuts down on fuel consumption by idling vehicles stuck in traffic.”

He said ODOT engineers also make use of the speed sensor data to gauge traffic flow at exit and entrance ramps along the major thoroughfares. The information allows them to identify areas where traffic may back up on a regular basis and make adjustments to traffic signals to promote better traffic flow.

Rose said ODOT does not own the speed sensors, but a monthly fee of $100 to $110 is paid for the data obtained from all of the sensors along I-77 within District 10.

ODOT press secretary Steve Faulkner said the Ohgo website is a recent addition to ODOT’s online presence.

“We’ve had many compliments about the site from people who have found it very helpful as they travel through the state,” he said. “They can check on road and traffic conditions before they even get into their cars. It’s a real benefit.”

Faulkner said the website also provides data on weather conditions collected from special weather stations ODOT has installed along the state’s roadways.