9/5/2006Virginia: Expensive Highway Signs Deliver Bad Info
The $128 million Smart Traffic message signs are misleading motorists with incorrect information about traffic conditions.
The $128 million dollar Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) highway signs designed to inform motorists of traffic conditions are displaying incorrect information across the state. Motorists in the Hampton Roads area, for example, complain that the signs are "always wrong," underestimating the delays by as much as one hour.
By 2003, VDOT had created a sophisticated "Smart Traffic Center" that used five thousand sensors, controllers, detectors, cameras and other equipment to feed 222 variable message signs. That year, the center's manager Robb Alexander claimed, "These signs have proven to be successful time and time again because nothing is required of the motorist to notice the alert but to pay attention when driving."
Last week, VDOT operations engineer James E. Mock explained to the Virginian-Pilot newspaper that there is no reliable formula to allow the signs to display correct information.
"They can send people to the moon, but they can't predict what traffic will be like in an hour," Mock said. "It's one of the biggest challenges in the traffic management industry."
Other complaints about the signs include that they often appear garbled and unreadable. Some signs also display the same "congestion ahead" message 24-hours a day, regardless of the prevailing traffic conditions.