Md. expanding use of signs giving travel times

Response 'very positive,' highway spokesman says

March 11, 2010|By Michael Dresser |

As it deploys 23 electronic message signs on major highways in the state, Maryland is attempting to answer a question that's been around almost as long as the automobile itself: "How much longer before we get there?"

The State Highway Administration said this week that it has expanded and made permanent its use of variable message signs to keep motorists informed of how long it will take them to reach important interchanges or landmarks in their travels.

For instance, travelers on the southbound Beltway at Park Heights Avenue were informed as Wednesday's evening rush hour began that it would take them 7 to 8 minutes to get to Interstate 70 and 12-15 minutes to reach Interstate 95.

Similar messages are now being displayed for travelers in five other spots along the Beltway, eight along I-95, seven on the Capital Beltway and two on Maryland 295.

The rollout of the messages follows a pilot program that began in January along I-95 between Baltimore and Washington that involved three signs in each direction.

State highway spokesman Dave Buck said the agency had received a "very positive" response to that trial. He said the agency intends to expand the program to other locations such as Interstate 83, Interstate 70 near Frederick, Interstate 270 between there and Washington and Interstate 97 on the way to Annapolis.

Buck acknowledged that the electronic signage isn't universally appreciated. Some motorists complain that traffic slows as drivers pause to read the messages. Such complaints, he said, have been heard for as long as the signs have been around.

But the more the state uses electronic signs, Buck said, the more people get used to them. He said the overall feedback has been that "people are getting value out of it."

State Highway Administrator Neil J. Pedersen said the technology allows the agency to provide real-time information to drivers. "Motorists can in turn make informed decisions about alternate routes of travel plans," he said.

Buck said the travel time messages will be posted most of the time but will be pre-empted for emergency news such as a crash that closes lanes. He said that travel time information would automatically be taken down from the screens if the estimates reach a level three times normal.

The signs are carefully spaced apart to be most effective, Buck said.

He said the messages cause "maybe a little" slowing but not enough to have a significant impact on traffic flow.

"If you're going the speed limit, you should be able to read the sign without any problem," he said.

The messages that are on display at the variable message signs around the state can be monitored by viewing, the Coordinated Highways Action Response Team (CHART) Web site.

Information for the system is gathered using GPS devices installed in corporate fleet vehicles.

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