Illinois Tollway aims to make new I-90 ‘smart corridor’ even smarter

(CHICAGO) The Illinois Tollway wants to join a federal pilot project of new “connected vehicle” technology that eventually could transmit real-time traffic information about congestion, dangers ahead or activity in blind spots directly into a driver’s vehicle, the Chicago Sun-Times is reporting.

On Thursday, the Tollway Board of Directors agreed to apply to join a Federal Highway Administration “Connected Vehicle Pilot Deployment” program that could start as early as 2017.

A winning application could net the Tollway $2 million to $20 million to further expand its 16-mile “smart corridor” plans for the Jane Addams Memorial Tollway (Interstate 90) that will debut in 2016.

The Tollway already has announced plans to use sensors planted in the roadway and gantries to inform overhead digital signs, posted every half-mile, once the I-90 “smart corridor” opens at the end of next year.

Based on information picked up by those sensors, the digital signs could update advisory speed limits based on traffic flows; alert drivers of congestion or collisions; or indicate lane closures as needed.

The “connected vehicle” pilot project would put that information — and more — in drivers’ cars via their smartphones or technology embedded in their vehicles.

The Tollway hopes to try out “connected technology” on the 10 Pace routes that will be operating on the shoulder of the new I-90, on anywhere from 50 to 100 Tollway vehicles, and on car and truck fleets with more than 10 vehicles registered to a single I-Pass account.

Information gathered from each connected vehicle’s position, as well as its 360-degree awareness of other “connected” vehicles within up to 328 yards, would help provide transportation officials and other such vehicles with live data about roadway conditions, congestion and predicted travel times, Tollway spokeswoman Wendy Abrams said.

Real-time “connected” information could expedite Tollway response time to accidents or problems. Every minute a lane is blocked because of an incident results in at least 4 minutes of additional travel delays, Tollway chief engineer Paul Kovacs told board members Thursday.

Board members watched a video from the U.S. Department of Transportation depicting the possibilities of connected technology.

In the video, cars moving on a highway, but within yellow circles representing a 360-degree radius of protective sensors, were able to identify other vehicles in their blind spots; receive warnings of emergency brake lights up ahead; and be warned against passing.

Such information holds the promise of preventing accidents in the first place by, among other things, helping drivers avoid sudden stops and starts, federal transportation officials contend.

One federal study estimates that 90 percent of all vehicles will be “connected” within the next 15 years, Abrams noted.

Most major manufacturers are looking to outfit cars with connected technology in the near future, including BMW, Chrysler, Ford, GM, Honda, Hyundai, Mercedes, Nissan and Volkswagen, Abrams said.

“By taking a leading role in testing, the Illinois Tollway can be among the first transportation agencies in the nation to bring the safety advances that result from this program to its customers,” Tollway Executive Director Kristi Lafleur said in a news release.

Board members also were reminded Thursday that the Tollway is investing $1.63 billion in transportation infrastructure improvements in 2015 — the largest single year of capital spending in the agency’s history.

The work includes delivering three new interchanges, continuing the rebuilding and widening of I-90, and completion of the first segment of Illinois Route 390 as part of the new, all-electronic Elgin O’Hare Western Access Project.


© Copyright 2015 Sun-Times Media, LLC