Smarter Highways go live on I-5 Seattle

Gov. Chris Gregoire, Washington State Department of Transportation Secretary Paula Hammond and Federal Highways Administrator Victor Mendez celebrated today as new Smarter Highways signs lit up on I-5 in south Seattle.

“Today we’re making the daily commute safer and more reliable for the tens of thousands of drivers who depend on I-5 everyday,” Gov. Gregoire said. “We’re giving real-time information on road conditions and instantly managing traffic to move vehicles and freight quicker with fewer accidents.”

The high-tech traffic management system features a network of sensors and 97 electronic signs on northbound I-5 that automatically respond to changing traffic conditions and give drivers real-time information. Overhead electronic signs will alert drivers to change lanes when an incident blocks traffic ahead or to adjust their speed as they approach slower-moving traffic.

“This technology will improve the quality of life for those in the Puget Sound area,” Mendez said. “Real-time information on road conditions can help drivers with decisions that will ultimately make their commutes more manageable.”

Smarter Highways is the latest innovative transportation tool WSDOT is using to improve safety and reduce congestion, and is based on proven technology used in Europe for the past two decades.

“This technology has been deployed in Europe with good results — up to 30 percent fewer injury collisions,” Transportation Secretary Hammond said. “We expect that giving drivers advance notice of incidents on the road ahead will reduce the number and severity of collisions associated with congestion here, too.”

Congestion and collisions are closely related. Between 2005 and 2009, there were an annual average of 434 collisions on the seven-mile stretch of northbound I-5 between Boeing Access Road and I-90. Two-thirds of these collisions — a total of 287 — are rear-ends, which are typically caused by congestion.

“Commuters are familiar with the cycle. Collisions cause congestion, and congestion causes more collisions,” Hammond said. “Collisions cause 25 percent of all congestion. Smarter Highways will help us break the cycle.”

The $23.8 million Smarter Highways project on northbound I-5 is funded as part of the Alaskan Way Viaduct Program. The technology will help keep people and goods moving on I-5 during construction to replace the Alaskan Way Viaduct. Starting this winter, construction activities on SR 99 (the Alaskan Way Viaduct) could add as many as 6,000 more vehicles per day to northbound I-5 between Boeing Field and I-90.

Smarter highways technology and techniques are a vital component of Moving Washington, WSDOT’s statewide strategy for improving mobility. The program uses new tools and technologies to better manage congestion by making our busiest freeways more efficient.

“These signs will help our highways work smarter by using our existing highways better,” Hammond said.

Smarter Highways overhead signs and sensors build and expand on existing tools that WSDOT has used successfully for years, including ramp meters, traffic cameras and electronic message signs. Variable speed limit signs already help make driving in winter weather safer on both I-90 Snoqualmie Pass and US 2 Stevens Pass. Last year, the department turned on the state’s first variable speed limit signs on an urban freeway — I-90 from Bellevue to Seattle.

Drivers soon will use Smarter Highways on two other busy corridors:

— SR 520 between I-5 and 130th Avenue NE in Bellevue in fall 2011;

— I-90 between I-5 and 150th Avenue SE in Bellevue in spring 2011.

To learn more about how WSDOT’s making our highways smarter, visit . For information about Moving Washington, visit .