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Hogan unveils $50.3M ‘smart’ traffic control systems

State Highway Administration administrator Greg Slater stands among screens that monitor traffic flows. (Bryan P. Sears)

State Highway Administration administrator Greg Slater stands among screens that monitor traffic flows. (Bryan P. Sears)

HANOVER — Maryland motorists could see shorter commutes as a result of a high-tech traffic control system promised by Gov. Larry Hogan.

The technology announced Wednesday as a phase two of Hogan’s plan to address road congestion lacks some of the gee whiz pop of a super train that travels at up to 700 miles per hour but the governor said the effects will be real for 700,000 motorists.

“These smart systems will replace existing controls that are 20 years old, outdated and unresponsive to the constant changes in traffic flow,” Hogan said.

The governor said the modernization of traffic control systems promises the state “will finally have the ability to adapt to changes in traffic flow and to changing traffic conditions in real time, immediately.”

The state will spend $50.3 million to install so-called smart signals along 14 congested state road corridors in Anne Arundel, Baltimore, Charles, Harford, Howard, Prince George’s and Montgomery counties.

“This is a very big, bold step, as the governor’s second phase of addressing congestion,” said Maryland Transportation Secretary Pete K. Rahn.

The system appears to be built off one developed by researchers at the University of Minnesota that uses cameras and sensors to detect backups. Information is sent real time to a computer that makes adjustments to traffic signal cycles to ease congestion.

In Maryland, the systems will be tied to other existing traffic management devices, creating a more regional system.

The announcement is the latest by Hogan that focuses on easing congestion on state roads and highways.

Last week the governor announced the state had given permission for The Boring Co. to begin drilling a tunnel under the Baltimore-Washington Parkway that one day could become part of a hyperloop train system to transport riders from D.C. to New York in under 30 minutes. Last month, the governor said he planned to add new toll lanes on that same stretch of road as well as on the Capital Beltway and Interstate 270.

Going almost unnoticed during the announcement was a computer system slightly larger than a bread box that is the brains of the system.

“It isn’t very sexy looking but that’s the device with the artificial intelligence that has the capability to respond in real time to changes in traffic flow,” Rahn said.

The system has been used in other urban areas in individual corridors but Rahn said Maryland’s plan is to use the technology on a larger scale than previously seen.

“It’s the newest technology out there today and as we replace our hardware and software systems, this is the kind of technology we want,” said Greg Slater, administrator for the State Highway Administration.

The initial rollout represents a small portion of the 2,500 signals operated by the state.

Transportation officials estimate the changes to the 14 corridors will shorten commutes for nearly 700,000 motorists. A test in Harford County along Route 24 shortened commute times by 13 percent, according to state highways officials.

The first of the 14 corridors will be operational within a month “if not sooner,” with the rest completed within a year, Rahn said.

“As we add over the coming years it will continue to develop and we’ll eventually have an entire smart system to the benefit of Marylanders,” Rahn said.





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