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Intelligent Traffic Systems On The New Tappan Zee Bridge

by Tim Blomquist

We’ve all been there. What should be a five minute ride across the Tappan Zee Bridge turns into 10, 15 or 20 minutes, making you miss the next train to Grand Central or have the trip back to Rockland take longer than you’d like. When the new Tappan Zee Bridge opens in 2018, traffic won’t magically disappear — but transportation officials say that a new Intelligent Transportation System (ITS) will help avoid many of the delays we have today.

With nearly 140,000 vehicles crossing the bridge every day—40% more than it was ever meant to handle—traffic jams are common. The current Tappan Zee Bridge sees 400 accidents each year. Thruway officials say that between 2008 and 2010, tailgating was the number one cause of bridge accidents, followed by speeding, unsafe lane changing and driver inattention.

ITS isn’t a single thing, but a suite of services that let work together to better inform drivers, highway managers — and ultimately cars — about road conditions and vehicle status. Components can include traffic signal control systems, variable message signs, automatic number plate recognition and traffic cameras.

ITS improves transportation safety and mobility and enhances American productivity by integrating advanced communication technologies into vehicles and infrastructure. The USDOT has invested in ITS and the benefits it offers in saving lives, reducing congestion, and making our communities more liveable. By working with the public and private sectors and the academic community, we are fostering innovation, encouraging deployment, and witnessing the success of ITS technologies nationwide.

ITS improves transportation safety and mobility and enhances American productivity by integrating advanced communication technologies into vehicles and infrastructure.  Source: USDOT

The US Dept of Transportation is researching future systems where cars can warn drivers of hazards up ahead that may be out of sight. In the future, vehicles will be able to passively communicate with each other about roadway conditions. That’s somewhere, someday. The goals for the ITS on the new bridge are slightly more modest.

The TZB ITS will include an incident detection system that will monitor air temperature and visibility to alert drivers about harsh conditions like snow, sleet, and fog. Electronic road signs will notify drivers to slow down and exercise caution while zipping across the Hudson.

Roadway traffic cameras will alert road crews to any situations requiring emergency services letting police, tow trucks and ambulances reach the incident scene without disrupting the flow of traffic. That’s a big improvement over what emergency crews and first responders need to do on the almost 60 year old current bridge that doesn’t have any shoulders. When completed, TZB II will have break down lanes in both directions on both of its two new spans.

ITS is already in use by the Port Authority on its bridges and in its tunnels. New York and New Jersey aren’t the only places to see the benefits of ITS: Intelligent Traffic Systems have been in use all over the world for decades. A 1995 trial run of an ITS system on England’s M25 Motorway lead to reduced accidents and smoother traffic flow, allowing for permanent implementation just two years later. Brazil, Singapore and Japan have also installed ITS.

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Tim Blomquist is an English major at SUNY Geneseo.


Nyack People & Places, a weekly series that features photos and profiles of citizens and scenes near Nyack, NY, is sponsored by Sun River Health.


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