Internet brings new view of construction

Robin Grant
Public Information Officer
Ohio Department of Transportation

The cyber revolution and proliferation of the Internet have implications for customer services in just about every industry, including transportation. In late March, the Ohio Department of Transportation revamped its I-70.org website, a site devoted to providing up-to-date information on the reconstruction of Interstate 70 in central Ohio, adding a new way to view construction: traffic web cameras.

"The traffic cams deliver accurate, real-time footage of the highway and traffic levels, all available at the click of a mouse," said Michelle May, ODOT's major program communication manager. "Now motorists can check on congestion in the work zone before leaving home or the office, to decide if they want to risk driving through construction in rush hour, or choose an alternate route."

This decision is key to the operation of the I-70 work zone in central Ohio, traffic engineers say, since the traffic levels on the highway will need to drop by half in order to keep cars moving in the area. Therefore, the ability to plan a route ahead of travel is expected to significantly aid both motorists and ODOT this summer as work progresses in the I-70 construction site, which extends east from the center of downtown Columbus for five miles.

"Motorists can view 16 different camera locations, focused on both the highway and the alternate routes, in order to choose the best way around the city," said Dave Holstein, ODOT administrator for the Office of Traffic Management. "By helping motorists get around downtown more effectively, we are helping this project stay on schedule. The better traffic moves, the easier it is to work on the road. ODOT is making every effort to ensure both the convenience of drivers and the productivity of its projects."

Even those who don't live or drive in central Ohio could be impacted by this initiative, as traffic cams become more common in work zones statewide. "These cameras could have definite applications for other projects," said Holstein. "The Columbus east freeway work zone is ODOT's pilot project for this technology. Depending upon the public's reaction and amount of use, web cams could potentially be deployed in other work zones across Ohio."

The traffic cams on the I-70 website are the product of a partnership between ODOT and the City of Columbus. The City already had several cameras focused on city streets and highways. ODOT added additional cameras and coordinated the information on the I-70 website. Interstate 71 in central Ohio has a similar construction information website, I-71.org, which also maintains up-to-date project information, lane and ramp closures, and contact information. The I-71 projects are part of a 10-year plan to resurface and widen the highway in various locations from Columbus to Cleveland. While the I-71 site does not yet have traffic cams, it may someday be a virtual reality.

"Guidelines will be developed for expanding the traffic cam program if the website usage warrants it," said Holstein. "Once the department can create a standard formula for the use of traffic cams, we can look at deploying them at other sites."

Combined with other tools, such as Highway Advisory Radio, press releases, and the annual Interstate Construction Brochure, the web cameras are meant to complement the total construction communications package, informing drivers of work zone locations, alternate routes, and traffic levels. Armed with this information, motorists can better choose the most efficient route for their daily commute.

While both the I-70 and I-71 websites were created by ODOT's District 6 office for the management of information on central Ohio work zones, construction information on additional work zones throughout the state is available on ODOT's website under the Ohio Transportation Information System at www.dot.state.oh.us/otis.

In an age when rapidly developing technology is often cost prohibitive, Holstein said the traffic cams are really an inexpensive way to help the public beat the congestion.

"Our initial investment for the web cams was only $17,000," he said. "In relation to the $78 million project cost (of the I-70 construction) and the cost associated with congestion, the cameras are an incredible value."

Additionally, traffic cameras will most likely cost even less for other projects, May added. "The I-70 project was complicated and required more cameras than normal because of the number of highways and alternate routes located in the heart of the city," May said. "Other projects may only require two or three cameras at far less cost."

For more information, please contact Robin Grant at 614-466-7170 or at Robin.Grant@dot.state.oh.us.