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TMCNet:  Tennessee's latest traffic management center aims to keep freeways flowing

[November 14, 2008]

Tennessee's latest traffic management center aims to keep freeways flowing

(Commercial Appeal, The (Memphis, TN) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) Nov. 13--To the state and local officials who dedicated it Thursday, the $37 million SmartWay transportation system now serving Greater Memphis is like having a whole new freeway built on the cheap.

The Tennessee Department of Transportation unveiled the third intelligent-transportation system that it has built across the state. This one is designed to enhance traffic flow on 85 miles of highways across Shelby and Crittenden counties.

The SmartWay system features 115 traffic cameras, 42 electronic message signs and more than 350 traffic-flow monitors, all feeding data to a Transportation Management Center that bears some resemblance to NASA's Mission Control. The system will "use technology more effectively" to alleviate congestion, TDOT commissioner Gerald Nicely said.

Because half of all congestion problems are caused by accidents and similar events, an intelligent-transportation system coupled with incidence-response trucks can fulfill the same purpose as constructing new highways: increasing the capacity of a road network, Nicely said.

And it does it at roughly one-tenth of the $4.5 million-per-mile cost of building new interstate highways, he added.

When traffic problems are identified by the cameras or monitors, controllers in the Transportation Management Center in East Memphis can relay the information to TDOT "Help" trucks and post messages on the electronic signs alerting motorists, who then could take alternative routes.

Motorists also can check camera images online to help in planning their trips.

Demonstrating the system Thursday, Nicely radioed a Help truck on Tenn. 385 near Ridgeway that was visible on a wall-sized video screen in the center. In the background, one of the electronic signs blinked the message that the SmartWay system was now functioning.

The launch of the Memphis system follows the completion of SmartWay networks in Nashville in 2003 and Knoxville two years later. A fourth system is under development in Chattanooga.

Reducing congestion will be bring a host of benefits to the Memphis area, local officials say.

"This is going to help our air quality, it's going to help with the efficiency of our system and, most of all, it's going to save money in the taxpayer's pocket when you get from Point A to Point B faster," said county public works director Ted Fox.

To see more of The Commercial Appeal, or to subscribe to the newspaper, go to http://www.commercialappeal.com.

Copyright (c) 2008, The Commercial Appeal, Memphis, Tenn.
Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.
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