Traffic management system along Virginia's I-66 aims to improve commute

- The Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) has flipped a switch and turned on a multimillion dollar computer system aimed at clearing up traffic congestion on Interstate 66.

Officials say their high-tech equipment will adjust to real-time traffic conditions and also start opening up those red "X" shoulder lanes more often.

If you ask people what driving on I-66 is like, you will hear many complaints about delays and backups. But the solution to these problems is VDOT’s new $38 million Active Traffic Management System that has now turned I-66 into a "smart road."

"We have added cameras throughout the corridor and traffic sensors,” said VDOT spokesperson Michelle Holland.

Those sensors and cameras are installed on and in the road and will monitor traffic 24 hours a day.

If lowering the speed limit could help keep traffic moving, the “smart road” can let an engineer do it at the touch of a button.

Do the red “X” shoulder lanes need to open up to traffic when it is not rush hour? Well, the system can do that too.

“We can open that shoulder lane regardless of what day of the week it is or what time of day,” said Holland.

You will also be seeing more electronic signs that change color, show what lanes are open, and will turn into speed limit signs when needed.

However, many drivers told us a long-term solution is needed and a permanent expansion is overdue. While many drivers may want a wider I-66, it does not look like that is coming down the road anytime soon.

This past spring, Virginia transportation officials said they are moving ahead with plans to add tolls to I-66 inside the beltway starting in 2017. That will mean HOV-3 lanes and tolls that change based on congestion. If that doesn't work, the possibility of widening this road remains, but there are a lot of political and financial hurdles to get over before that happens.

The new Active Traffic Management System will include:

  • Expanded use of the shoulder lanes between the Beltway and Route 50 – The shoulder lanes, also known as the red ‘X’ lanes, will routinely be opened to traffic when congestion builds, regardless of the time of day or day of the week. Currently, the shoulder lanes are used only during weekday peak periods.

  • New lane control signals on all lanes between Nutley Street and Route 29 in Centreville – Motorists will be able to see which lanes are usable or blocked well in advance of incidents.

  • Expanded camera and dynamic message sign coverage between the District of Columbia and Route 29 in Gainesville – The cameras will improve monitoring of the highway and thus enable transportation, safety and law enforcement personnel to respond more quickly and appropriately to incidents. The dynamic message signs will advise drivers on incidents and delays.

  • Upgrades to the ramp metering system inside the Beltway – The ramp meters that help manage traffic merging onto I-66 will be able to adapt to traffic conditions.
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