Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Disk Drive: Computers to `Smarten' St. Louis Highways

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Disk Drive: Computers to `Smarten' St. Louis Highways

Article excerpt

Flickering across video monitors, surfing along radio waves and blinking through computerized traffic signals, the highway of the future is coming to St. Louis, and it's coming soon.

Within a couple of years, a computerized traffic light might allow you to drive onto Interstate 70 only when your car won't add to congestion. A radio station pegged to your stretch of highway might tell you what to expect around the next bend in the road.

And a computer in your car might give you directions.

"Let's say you're on Tucker, and you want to get to Grand and Washington," said Tom Dollus, a Missouri traffic engineer. "You punch that in, and it will come up with a route. As you drive, it will tell you to make a right at the next intersection."

And with information from highway engineers, the computer could even tell you how to avoid the traffic jam caused by a truck accident five minutes before, said Dollus, an assistant division engineer for traffic with the Missouri Highway and Transportation Department.

All of that technology goes by the name "intelligent vehicle highway system" or, more casually, "smart highways." Engineers generally refer to the technology by the acronym IVHS.

The idea behind smart highways is simple: The more traffic engineers and drivers know about traffic conditions, the better traffic will flow. Smart highway technology is a way to get and distribute that information.

A planning firm in New Jersey is working on a yearlong study of smart highway technology for the St. Louis metropolitan area, a study that is the first major step toward raising the IQ level on St. Louis highways.

In a public hearing next month, St. Louis area residents will get a chance to broadcast their views on what kind of equipment the area needs and where it should go. The firm is supposed to issue a final report in May.

The fee for the study: $315,000.

"This is a detailed study," said Dale Ricks, a field liaison engineer for the Missouri Highway Department and the engineer overseeing the project for Missouri and Illinois. "It's not a minor thing."

The firm, Edwards and Kelcey, is looking at smart highway programs elsewhere in the country and deciding which of those might work best in St. Louis, said Gary Rylander, deputy project manager for the firm.

"What is going to turn out to work in the St. Louis area is probably going to be a different mix from what would work in New York City or in Minneapolis or in Los Angeles," Rylander said.

The work is being done with the help of the federal government. Washington will pay 90 percent of the cost of the study. The Illinois and Missouri transportation departments will pay the remainder, with Missouri picking up the biggest chunk. …

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