FDOT INSTALLS VARIABLE SPEED LIMIT SIGNS ON INTERSTATE
By Caleb Fooks
The Florida Department of Transportation officially initiated ten digital highway signs between the Orange Blossom Trail and Maitland Boulevard portion of Interstate 4 on Sept. 15.
The department’s objective is to remotely adjust speed limits according to the flow of traffic, ultimately creating a safer and more efficient commuter highway.
When the road is congested, the speed limit will be lowered, in theory allowing for a more stable flow of traffic.
Mounted sensors along I-4 are monitored by traffic management software which analyzes and gives recommended speed changes based on the data. However, the automated speed limit recommendation does not make it to the interstate until it gets the human OK.
Regional Transportation Management Center operators then review the traffic camera feeds and the computer’s suggestion, adjusting the signs themselves.
“The response time to traffic slowdowns will be within seconds,” said FDOT District Five Traffic Operations Engineer Rick Morrow in a statement released six days before the signs’ planned activation.
“Keeping cars from rushing into a congested area will do wonders,” said Morrow. “Imagine I-4 at rush hour as a funnel. If you pour a cup of rice all at once through the funnel you’ll get just a trickle coming out, if anything at all. But if you pour the rice at a slow, even pace you get a steady stream moving right through.”
The department is confident that the new signs will make for an improvement, but point out that it’s up to the drivers.
“Once people get used to it, I think they will love it,” said FDOT District Five Secretary Noranne Downs. “Faster travel times, fewer accidents, better gas mileage and less sitting still in traffic. What’s not to
Daily I-4 commuter Eric Spencer expressed no love for the signs. “If they slow down the traffic when it’s already slow it will remain slow. I pass by the new signs everyday and people don’t seem to mind, they’ll
go 60 when the sign says 50 or 45. I mean, it’s not working now so its probably not going to work out in the future.”
Still, some students remain optimistic about the new traffic signs. “If they use it at the right times it might actually help with congestion, like five o’ clock traffic.” said freshman Ky Boyd.
This new high-tech method of traffic monitoring is a part of a bigger operation called iFlorida. The program began in early 2003 when FDOT received an intelligent transportation system model deployment grant from the Federal Highway Administration after competing with 16 other states.
The road signs were originally put into place in early 2005 but were not activated until this past week due to glitches in the software that measures speeds on highways of Central Florida.
Eventually the plan is to improve all of Florida’s highways using intelligent traffic networking and speed limits.
“It might take some time for people to remember to check and follow these variable speed limits,” said Downs, “but once it’s in drivers’ minds, we know it’ll make a great impact.”