MnDOT Regional Transportation Management Center reaches
Roseville, Minn.— Although it was marked with little fanfare, MnDOT’s Regional Transportation Management Center (RTMC) in Roseville reached its 10th Anniversary in June. The facility, shared by MnDOT and the Department of Public Safety, opened in June 2003 and staff began occupying the building in a rolling implementation as it became available. The new building replaced the original Traffic Management Center perched along Interstate 94 in downtown Minneapolis where the department operated from 1972 until mid-2003.
In 2003 the new RTMC brought together three dispatch groups from separate locations in the Twin Cities Metro area: State Patrol, MnDOT Maintenance and Traffic Operations. Consolidation of the three groups greatly increased and improved coordination among the functions. And the ensuing 10 years has seen much growth and expansion among all the partners.
When the new dispatch center opened, there were 385 traffic cameras on the Twin Cities freeway system. Today, the system has 550 cameras on-line to monitor traffic flow and incidents. The number of dynamic messages signs also has almost doubled in the past 10 years from 76 to 150. The signs alert motorists to incidents, delays and closures due to construction or maintenance activity.
And when the new center opened, there were no intelligent lane control signals (ILCS). Today, the system boasts 325 ILCS on I-35W between Burnsville and downtown Minneapolis and on I-94 between Minneapolis and St. Paul. The electronic signs are mounted over the traffic lanes to provide real-time status of the High Occupancy Vehicle lanes in addition to providing alerts about lane blockages. The signs also can display advisory speed limits and designate when the priced dynamic shoulder lane is open to traffic.
This past year also has been a time of growth and major changes at the dispatch center.
State Patrol: Ten statewide dispatch/call centers have been merged into two centers located in the Twin Cities Metro and Rochester. This has presented a challenge hiring and training staff. As with all positions in all three groups there is a very distinct learning curve.
MnDOT Maintenance dispatchers: This function is operates 24 hours a day, 7 days and week and interacts closely with both State Patrol and Traffic Operations. They have the distinct chore to try to keep everyone happy from state troopers to project engineers to the public. Maintenance dispatchers constantly adjust from snow and ice to working with the evening maintenance shops and then back to snow and ice all winter long. And then spring, summer and fall bring flooding, potholes, construction and a myriad of other maintenance responsibilities. The last ten years have presented the challenge of weather, new technology and weather.
Traffic Operations: Numerous changes in technology have improved incident management and response times for the traveling public. The department’s two MnPASS corridors were opened (I-394 in 2005 and I-35W in 2009). Many new field devices including traffic cameras, ramp meters, dynamic message signs, lane control signals and gate arms have been added since 2003 for an increase from 927 in 2003 to 1504 in 2012.
Freeway Incident Response Safety Team (FIRST) trucks responded to 26,000 incidents in 2011. Included among those calls were crashes, stalls, jump starts, fuel, push vehicle and tire changes. By rapidly responding to incidents along the freeway system, FIRST drivers were able to lessen the time of those incidents and keep traffic moving with less congestion and delays, not to mention greatly improving safety. And among some of the more interesting and heroic stories, FIRST units have saved lives by pulling a mother and her two children from a quickly sinking car that slid in to a storm water holding pond and assisted an hysterical woman who had a live animal inside her vehicle. The driver calmed the woman and then called Animal Control to deal with the raccoon (presumably agitated) which had crawled in to her engine compartment.
As we look forward to the next 10 years in traffic management and dispatch technology, there are exciting changes ahead, according to Brian Kary, Freeway Operations Engineer. The RTMC is beginning to utilize additional traffic detection methods other than loop detectors, which are located beneath the pavement surface. A gradual switch to radar detection units known as Wavetronix is underway and the change will reduce installation and maintenance costs. Located on a post alongside the roadway, they do not have to be imbedded in the pavement and can be repaired year-round if needed.
In the near future, probe data from GPS units may be used to calculate travel times or provide performance data for corridors that do not have instrumentation. This data is already used by companies like Google to provide traffic data on their maps.
In the longer term, cars will begin to provide data to the traffic management system and be able to report travel speeds, road conditions and other valuable information. Known as “Connected Vehicle”, the U.S. Department of Transportation plans to require that vehicles communicate with each other as well as with local transportation departments. A quote from their website states, “Through wireless technology, connected vehicles ranging from cars to trucks and buses to trains could one day be able to communicate important safety and mobility information to one another that helps save lives, prevent injuries, ease traffic congestion, and improve the environment.”