GPS will help drivers go more with traffic flow

The most ambitious use of technology to combat traffic congestion debuts next month along one of the nation's most clogged arteries and could become a model duplicated throughout the USA.

Drivers on Interstate 95 from New Jersey to North Carolina will have access to real-time information on traffic flows, crashes and travel time to help them anticipate delays.

The data will be collected from more than 800,000 Global Positioning System (GPS) devices on delivery vans, trucks, taxicabs and other service vehicles; from sensors embedded in the roadways; from toll tag data such as EZ Pass, and from cellphones.

The information will be sent within three minutes to state transportation departments that will then alert drivers via road signs, 511 phone systems, mobile alerts and the Internet. The system will enable officials to get more detailed information to a broader audience.

"Real-time information is critical to drivers, not only in terms of what's going on but also in terms of providing alternative solutions," says James Ray of the Federal Highway Administration.
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Each year congestion costs $78 billion in delays and wasted fuel, according to a September report from the Texas Transportation Institute, a research arm of Texas A&M University.

ARE WE THERE YET: Project will make real-time traffic info available

The new network will initially cover 1,500 miles of freeway and 1,000 miles of major roads between New Jersey and North Carolina. It could eventually be expanded to include the entire East Coast, from Maine to Florida.

Inrix Inc., a Washington state-based company that already provides real time and predictive traffic data to navigation services such as MapQuest, TomTom and Garmin, will collect the data under a $1 million contract with the 16-state I-95 Corridor Coalition.

The collection of all that data is likely to raise privacy concerns, says Alan Pisarksi, a national expert on commuting. "The public is very suspicious of these things, he says.

Barry Steinhardt, of the American Civil Liberties Union, says, "The sad reality is there's very little law that governs what data can be collected, how it can be used and when it can be turned over to law enforcement or the private sector."

Inrix CEO Bryan Mistele says no identifying information is collected.

By Larry Copeland

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