Multi-state collaboration improving traveler information on North/West Passage

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A collaborative long-term transportation study and work program between eight state Departments of Transportation (DOTs) is improving traveler information across major east-west corridors.

Interstates 90 and 94 between the states of Wisconsin and Washington are major corridors for commercial and recreational travel. Extreme winter weather conditions, prevalent in the northern states within this corridor, pose significant operational and travel-related challenges. Recognizing the value of coordinated, cross-border collaboration for ITS deployment, Minnesota spearheaded the development of a transportation pooled fund study, called North/West Passage, in 2003.

The initiative has been supported by the Federal Highway Administration’s (FHWA’s) Transportation Pooled Fund (TPF) Program, which has been providing state departments of transportation and other organizations with the opportunity to collaborate in solving transportation-related problems for more than 30 years. The TPF Program is focused on making use of limited funds, avoiding duplication of effort, undertaking large-scale projects, and achieving broader dissemination of results on issues of regional and national interest.

The eight states, Minnesota, Idaho, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Washington, Wisconsin and Wyoming, involved in the study are predominantly rural and face similar transportation issues related to traffic management, traveler information, and commercial vehicle operations. They developed an ITS Integrated Work Plan and have so far completed nine work plans containing 50 projects across the region. North West Passage Traveler Information Website, the group’s hallmark project, offers travel information for I-90 and I-94 in a single interactive map. In addition to checking weather conditions, road closures, and temporary truck restrictions, motorists can find the location of gas stops, rest areas and parks.

The states are currently evaluating a program that allows citizens to report driving conditions so that they can be included in traveler information systems, with a pilot currently underway with Minnesota DOT’s 511 system. Two different reporting mechanisms are being reviewed: the first is using recruited and trained citizens input reports; the second is using crowd-sourced data from Waze’s Connected Citizens Program. Another project is comparing winter maintenance practices between corridor states as part of the FHWA’s Road Weather Management Program (RWMP), in order to reduce agency costs and the amount of salt and chemicals used.

The NW Passage group’s other major accomplishments include: the ability for North and South Dakota 511 callers to select and receive information on Minnesota’s highways; an online portal for coordination of traffic management center (TMC) operations, including guidelines, maps, and contact information, to manage major events across states; development of one proposal to hire a contractor to perform work in two states; and a Traveler Information smartphone application, which is under development.

“The biggest benefit of this pooled fund study is that it allows MnDOT to see what its neighbors are doing when developing solutions for operational issues,” noted Cory Johnson, traffic research director at MnDOT’s office of traffic, safety and technology. “This awareness really helps us make better decisions about our projects at the state level.”

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Tom has edited Traffic Technology International magazine and the Traffic Technology Today website since he joined the company in May 2014. Prior to this he worked on some of the UK's leading consumer magazine titles including Men's Health and Glamour, beginning his career in journalism in 1997 after graduating with a law degree from the London School of Economics (LSE).

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