Traffic Data Might Tell Greater Story with Public-Private Partnerships

AASHTO Journal, 28 October 2011

DETROIT — As technology advances, states have the potential to collect data and combine that data with other information sources to provide operations engineers and travelers a more complete picture of what is happening on the roadway now and what might be expected to happen in the future, according to a panel of experts at the 2011 AASHTO Annual Meeting in Detroit, Michigan.The panel — George Schoener, I-95 Corridor Coalition executive director; Michael Pack, director of the CATT Laboratory at the University of Maryland; and Ted Trepanier, INRIX Public Sector executive director — discussed case studies and examples of how states can combine their own travel data with private sector data.

Schoener said that several years ago the I-95 Corridor Coalition, which was formed in the early 1990s, began to see a need for providing better information to the traveling public using the I-95 corridor that runs through a 16-state region stretching from Florida to Maine. After a request for proposal process, Schoener said the coalition opted to partner with INRIX.

Today, the partnership provides information for travelers through the coalition’s web-based trip planner and state-by-state 511 integration. And transportation agencies are building INRIX data into their public web sites and flow maps. In Virginia, the data is fed to kiosk displays at a local mall and at the state’s welcome centers along I-95.

The partnership also provides information to state DOT system operations staffs, which can use the data for situational awareness and to manage travel time displays on road signs and at major decision points. Finally, the information is used by planners who review historical data, enabling new kinds of analysis and an emerging focus on performance-driven planning.

Pack explained how the public and private data are being combined with data streams for the weather, transit systems, signal systems, and vehicle emissions. This combining of data streams provides a more complete “picture” of what is happening throughout the system.

“A number in and of itself is meaningless,” Pack said. “The ‘why’ is what gives meaning to the data.”

Pack’s team at the University of Maryland has developed a web-based analytics system that is being used by I-95 Corridor Coalition members to track bottlenecks, download data, and access historic data tools.

Pack said the real value is that the new data tools can help state DOTs focus attention on the most critical points in the system, potentially funneling tight budgets toward the highest impact benefits.

INRIX’s Trepanier said that the future for traffic data is in the strategy of combining data for multiple sources
— for instance, using INRIX’s data to supplement the data states already collect from roadway sensors. That can give states a more complete picture of what is happening across the system at a potentially reduced cost.

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