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High-tech highways roll into region

Technology makes commuter, truck routes more friendly

Photo Credit: HILLSBORO TRIBUNE PHOTO: CHASE ALLGOOD - One of the Oregon Department of Transportations new reader boards is located on Highway 26 between Cornelius Pass Road and 185th Avenue. Commuters say the information allows them to figure out how much longer their commute is likely to be and whether they will need to take another route.Seven highways and major arterial roads in the Beaverton area are poised to take a big leap into the future.

Fueled by more than $10 million in federal funds, Washington County will soon see a new wave of what is being called “Intelligent Transportation System” enhancements. The system is a network of variable message signs and signal coordination expected to pave the way to smoother traffic flows on key highway corridors.

The U.S. Department of Transportation announced the Oregon Department of Transportation and the Washington County Department of Land Use and Transportation were jointly awarded $10.1 million in Transportation Improvements Generating Economic Recovery grants to pay for eight advanced transportation management projects within the county.

The Beaverton-area projects include:

• Tualatin Valley Highway (Highway 8) from Hillsboro’s Brookwood Avenue through Aloha to Beaverton;

• Cornelius Pass Road from Cornell Road south to Highway 8;

• 185th Avenue between Sunset Highway and Highway 8;

• Murray Boulevard from Sunset Highway to Highway 8;

• Murray Boulevard from Highway 8 to Scholls Ferry Road;

• Scholls Ferry Road between Murray and Highway 217; and

• Sunset Hwy from Highway 217 to I-405.

“These arterials carry significant commuter traffic to employment areas regionally, but also link up to ODOT facilities that connect the Westside computer and electronics industry and the Portland Airport distribution centers,” said Andrew Singelakis, director of the county’s Land Use and Transportation Department.

“The goal of the combined projects is to improve travel time reliability, provide better traveler information, and enhance freight, transit and bicycle operations on major county arterials.”

The county’s portion of TIGER grants implements strategies that include active traffic signal management, transit and truck signal priority improvements, bicycle detection, and signal timing and performance monitoring. One of the features of performance monitoring is measuring travel times.Photo Credit: CONTRIBUTED PHOTO - Mike Dahlstrom, Washington County senior planner who coordinated the Aloha-Reedville study, goes over improvement plans at a stop near 185th and Tualatin Valley Highway on Monday with U.S. Rep. Suzanne Bonamici. The Congresswoman toured TIGER Grant sites to discuss transportation infrastructure needs in Washington County.

Among the upgrades the TIGER grant will pay for are reader boards that provide “real-time” information about traffic congestion ahead and advise motorists of optimal speeds to ease further congestion.

Some smart signal technology has already been deployed along the Sunset Highway and Highway 217.

Beyond simply providing information, however, the variable signs can actually help reduce backups if drivers understand how the signs work and heed the advisories.

ODOT officials say the suggested speed function serves to reduce congestion, because if drivers slow to the recommended speed, a bottleneck several miles down the road may have time to work itself out before the next wave of drivers converge on the jam.

Stephen Roberts, communications coordinator for the county’s Department of Land Use and Transportation, said the information being updated on the reader boards is largely computer-driven.

“Sensors in the ground detect the speed and quantity of cars, and we also have closed-circuit television cameras that are monitored by ODOT officials so the signs are adjusted in real time,” Roberts explained.

“The idea is to encourage people to slow down instead of charging ahead at 55 and coming to a backup and having to slam on their brakes.”

The eight projects that will soon be underway in the county are just the beginning of a comprehensive upgrading of arterials and highways in Washington County.

According to Singelakis, the county has identified 60 Intelligent Transportation System projects, with an overall cost of about $30 million.

Some question the price tag and wonder what good the signs do for commuters out on the road and, all too often, already stuck in slow traffic. But many drivers say knowing what’s coming provides motorists or truck drivers the opportunity to change their route, or at the least give them the chance to call ahead to let others know when they expect to arrive.

“I think the highway-to-highway (time to get there) sign is nice,” said Tiffany Stein, a Hillsboro resident. “Those who know the area can use them to bypass congestion.”

Beaverton resident Karlyn Weaver, who drives to the airport at least once a week, also likes the new technology.

“It helps reduce my stress level by mentally preparing me for what I’m about to encounter traffic-wise,” Weaver said.

With additional growth in the county, strategies to improve traffic flow in the area are often a topic of discussion for state and local transportation officials.

“The infrastructure development projects will help to make commutes more efficient by alerting motorists about areas of congestion on the road ahead so they have time to consider alternative routes,” said Singelakis. “This technology is state of the art, and is in response to growth in general.

“It allows us to facilitate traffic flow through traffic management within the existing road network.”

Last year, the Washington County Board of Commissioners appropriated $1.5 million in Gain Share funds for similar Intelligent Transportation System technology in Hillsboro on Cornell Road and Cornelius Pass Road near Intel’s Ronler Acres campus.

The selection of the Cornell/Cornelius Pass locations was heavily influenced by increased traffic demand generated by Intel.

Linda Cornely-Struzan, a commuter from Portland who drives on Highway 26 every day to get to her job with the Northwest Regional Education Services District in Hillsboro, said she appreciates the information offered on the new reader boards.

“The signs showing the time to travel to the next major highway also inform about crashes and lane closures ahead,” she said. “That information allows me to go a different route, slow down, or move over. However, I question who keeps them updated. Sometimes a crash is posted, and I sail right through that area because the crash has already been cleared.”

Washington County’s eight new projects are expected to be operational by the end of 2016.

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