September 15th, 2011
KEEPING TRAFFIC FLOWINGOptimize Mobility, by Catherine Higgins.
Transportation officials from four states are looking for better ways to let road users know about travel delay on I-80.
Stretching from I-101 in San Francisco to the Jersey Turnpike, I-80 is the longest interstate freeway in the United States and is a critical route for moving people and goods. California, Nevada, Utah, Wyoming and Nebraska share a part of the route. Each state has areas that could be considered “mostly weather related” trouble spots, explains coalition member Rich Clarke, UDOT Director of Maintenance.
Donner Summit in the Sierra Nevada Mountain Range is an area where snow removal can delay travel for hours and sometimes days. In Utah, I-80 crosses the Great Salt Lake Desert, a long, straight segment where wind can also make travel treacherous. Parley’s Canyon in Utah closes in winter due to high snowfall and dangerous travel conditions. In Wyoming, I-80 is subject to winter and summer closures due to wind through the Wind River region. Nebraska experiences west-bound back-up when Wyoming closes, so coalition partners depend on Nebraska officials to let road users coming from the east know what’s ahead.
Informing truckers about delay
Keeping traffic moving through or around the trouble spots is good for road users and the local and national economy because travel delay has a real and measurable economic cost . The I-80 Coalition is an effort to keep traffic flowing and let road users, mostly truckers, know about traffic delay – and the earlier that notification takes place, the better.
“If we can tell a trucker in Sacramento that he’s going to run into problems when he gets to Parley’s, then he has a lot of room to make decisions,” says Clarke. “In the Salt Flats, his options have decreased but it is still better than waiting until he becomes stuck in Parley’s where he is not only out of options but has now become part of the problem. It is our hope that if he gets the word early he can take another rout or finds a place to lie over until the roads clear.”
Two other UDOT people are also participating in the coalition. Leigh Jones, Weather Information Systems Program Manager and Daniel Kuhn, UDOT Railroad and Freight Planner. UDOT’s weather gathering system is cutting edge, and meteorologists provide information to surrounding states. Kuhn is an expert on truck traffic and the trucking industry.
Whatever it takes
The Nevada Department of Transportation is the lead agency for the coalition. Members meet biannually and communicate often between meetings. While the group also deals with safety issues, like chain-up laws, the I-80 Coalition is largely a communication effort, explains Clarke, with the number one priority being serving the public by keeping traffic flowing. Last year, the group used snow storms as a communication exercise. Members teleconferenced and “went through the process of talking to each other about what was happening in other states.” The exercise helped to build communication links between states.
When it comes to communication platforms, the coalition is looking at all available options, including Variable Message Signs, Highway Advisory Radio and using weigh stations. “Websites, social media, tweets, whatever is available out there,” says Clarke. Truckers typically have laptops in their cabs. Informing motorists, especially truckers, about delay will keep traffic flowing and goods and people moving along the critical route.
How important is I-80 to interstate commerce? A post by Daniel Kuhn provides an interesting perspective on the importance of I-80 to the United States and Canada.