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Colorado DOT's Plan to Combat Winter Crashes

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by Aaron Mack in Uncategorized
January 18, 2018

When it comes to the deployment of transportation technology, Colorado has fast-become a household name. From building its own Hyperloop to deploying one of the world’s first autonomous work zone vehicles, the state continues to be at the forefront of innovation. Today, the Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) is at work on a new project that will apply intelligent transportation systems (ITS) to address a critical road safety issue: winter weather.

Colorado’s Interstate 70 through Glenwood Canyon comprises a 13.5-mile stretch that is impacted each winter by heavy snowfall and near-constant icy conditions. According to a 2014 study, the stretch constitutes one of the most perilous roadways in the state, with 744 crashes—18% of which resulted in injuries, with two fatalities—occurring there over a five-year period. The majority of crashes occur during winter weather conditions. Exacerbating the issue, snow removal on the section is notoriously difficult due to roadway elevation and geometry, making it hard for maintenance crews to gain and keep the upper hand.

But if CDOT can’t beat Mother Nature, it can get at least get a leg up from technology.

This year, CDOT will begin installing an extensive network of ITS applications to improve safety and inform roadway maintenance operations throughout the wintry I-70 corridor.

On one hand, CDOT will install a Variable Speed Limit ITS over the 13.5-mile stretch in an attempt to reduce the number of crashes caused by improper speed and slippery surface conditions. Remote temperature and precipitation sensors, along with a network of traffic cameras, will wirelessly keep CDOT up-to-date on surface conditions in approximate real-time. The data will help traffic center personnel make informed speed limit decisions on the fly; the data will be distributed to travelers via a network of 23 electronic variable message signs installed along I-70—one sign every 1.3 miles.

On the other hand, the same data will help CDOT personnel decide when it’s time to send out the road crews (who, incidentally, use magnesium chloride to melt snow and enhance surface conditions).

In the future, CDOT says, it’s possible that the entire system could be automated. But at the current time, traffic center personnel are still a necessity when it comes to interpreting data and making informed management decisions.

In the meantime, CDOT is also working on another project along I-70 that will use connected vehicle technology to enhance driver safety. Look for additional updates in a later post.

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