Digital eyes are now in place at approaches to major Johnson City intersections feeding real-time information about traffic congestion to a control room at the city’s Traffic Division.
The $4 million Intelligent Traffic System project is up and running after nearly four years of presentations, applications and the wait normally required to lock in and receive federal funding.
Johnson City’s new ITS employs fiber optic/Ethernet into an interconnected system delivered to monitors where technicians observe traffic patterns and manipulate signal timing from a remote location to allow for better flow. So far, the system includes 41 high-tech cameras that rotate to give engineers an expanded, real-time view of heavily traveled corridors.
“What it will do is enable us to look at an entire corridor on numerous screens and allow us to troubleshoot problems from a central location,” said Anthony Todd, the city’s traffic engineer. “Instead of looking at spots, we can look at what’s going on up and down the system. It also will include software that will help us know more quickly the traffic volumes, how much ‘feeder’ roads are being backed up or cleared up when we tweak the system.”
Information is sent to the Traffic Division office at 209 Water St., where technicians can view six 55-inch screens that can be switched to various locations. There also is a station where a seated technician can view both the “video wall,” or at smaller monitors positioned at a desk.
Todd said the city already had video cameras in place at nine intersections. These will remain and be used to replace sensors embedded in asphalt used for traffic counts.
“It gives us additional tools to monitor and modify the signals, and we hope to be able to use it as a proactive tool,” he said. “By using the system, you can see a bigger picture of how traffic is flowing. You want to be able to see if traffic is progressing or if it is backing up. The digital technology also will allow us to do traffic counts.”
Todd and his staff have been physically traveling to various intersections to observe and take notes regarding traffic patterns.
Fiber optic communication allows transmission of information from one place to another by sending pulses of light through an optical fiber. The optical fibers will replace old copper wire that’s now in place. Ethernet is now the dominant data-delivery technology.
“If there is a special event, instead of having to have an officer on scene for hours, we can adjust the signal timing,” Todd said. “Fiber optic is the only way we can do this. Also, people will be able to go on the city’s website and view what’s on the monitors, and the police and fire departments also will utilize it.”
In April 2013, city commissioners approved a bid from Nashville-based Stansell Electric Co. Gresham, Smith and Partners, also from Nashville, provided oversight on construction of the new system. The same company, which has served as a city consultant, also drew up plans for the project and put together bid specifications.
The Federal Highway Administration is providing 80 percent of the cost. The state and Johnson City each will provide 10 percent matches. Todd said this equates to about $400,000 for the city. He originally projected that the Tennessee Department of Transportation would have approved the FHA money in time to send out a bid in 2010 and begin implementation in 12 to 18 months. Obviously, that did not happen.
Commissioners that year considered a bid by Pennsylvania-based Gannett Fleming Project Development Corp., but TDOT ruled the company ineligible for not meeting contractor-licensing requirements.
Video cameras — not red light cameras — for traffic signal management were first installed at the West Market Street and North State of Franklin Road intersection in 2000. Today, about 20 intersections are being “tracked” by the city’s police department via video cameras.
The system also can be incorporated for use by the city’s fire and police departments, Johnson City Transit and EMS. It also can be used to monitor the severity of rain and snow events and help speed up communication to city staff tending to these problems.
Johnson City is not Los Angeles. But relative to its population, congestion is an everyday reality. In fact, Todd crowned the State of Franklin corridor “the most pronounced” when it comes to the traffic technicalities that need debugging.
He cited three main segments where traffic continues to be a handful: the State of Franklin and Med Tech corridors and the West Market Street and State of Franklin intersection.
“Obviously, we’ve got some heavy traffic volumes,” he said. “Our arterial streets (branch-like through roads) are intended to carry traffic for longer distances and with less interruption, but they’ve become more or less a place to collect and to direct traffic. Our roadway network does not have a lot of interconnection when you get off main roads. What you end up with is a variety of ‘slows’ and stops.”
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