Nov 28 2017

Maryland Taps AI-Backed Traffic Signal Upgrade to Ease Traffic Flows

Smart street lights could be the answer to relieving congestion on some of the Old Line State’s most crowded corridors.

Maryland drivers know that it often doesn’t take much to get caught in a traffic jam. In fact, a recent study found that the area surrounding Washington, D.C., had some of the worst traffic in the U.S., with a whopping 700 backups in a single year.

But a $50.3 million investment into smart traffic signals by the Maryland Department of Transportation State Highway Administration (MDOT SHA), announced by Gov. Larry Hogan in October, aims to help traffic flow smoother throughout the state.

“By replacing 20-year-old existing controls with smart traffic signals, we will have the ability to respond to changes in traffic flow, as well as traffic conditions immediately — benefiting nearly 700,000 Maryland citizens across the state,” said Hogan in a statement.

The new technology aims to supplement plans announced in September to widen three major corridors in the state: the Capital Beltway (I-495), I-270 and the Baltimore-Washington Parkway. While the original announcement was met with some criticism from environmental advocates, the smart traffic signals are garnering a warmer reception, The Baltimore Sun reports.

“This is a welcome approach that makes the existing infrastructure perform better,” Dru Schmidt-Perkins, former executive director of the conservation group 1,000 Friends of Maryland, told the Sun.

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Adaptive Controls Make for More Flexible Traffic Signals

The MDOT SHA operates more than 2,500 signals as part of 250 signal systems, according to the press release. For the upgrade, the transportation department will replace existing control systems, many of which are more than 20 years old, with an adaptive control system backed by artificial intelligence.

The smart signals will use detection software to “monitor traffic conditions and alter the timing of traffic signals,” based on factors that can contribute to congestion, such as vehicle collisions and construction, the press release states. The signals will receive data through sensors placed on traffic light poles and in the road’s pavement itself, State Highway Administrator Gregory I. Slater told The Baltimore Sun.

He estimates that, with the upgrades, travelers can expect to see 10- to 15-percent reductions in travel time.

“It’ll adapt on the fly,” Slater told the Sun.

The transportation department will upgrade 14 major corridors in metropolitan areas across the state by the end of 2018. These areas were mainly chosen because they were equipped with technology that was compatible with the new system. The administration plans to build out more smart traffic signals in the future.

Maryland is just the latest to approve a smart signal build-out, with officials from Las Vegas, Cary, N.C., and others previously revealing plans to implement the time-saving and emissions-reducing tech.

“Sometimes it doesn’t seem like the signals are really keeping up with the flow of traffic,” Ragina Averella, public affairs manager for AAA Maryland, told The Baltimore Sun. “Utilizing new technology and replacing antiquated traffic signals will benefit Maryland motorists in many of the state’s most congested corridors.”

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