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New dynamic message signs offer travelers extra set of eyes

With the current gasoline prices, travelers are looking for new ways to save a gallon or two of fuel. That is especially true for commuters in the metropolitan Jackson area where rush hour traffic can mean additional frustrating and costly “windshield time.”

On August 25, travelers on the interstates in the metro Jackson area got a boost when the Mississippi Department of Transportation (MDOT) activated its newly installed dynamic message signs (DMS). The signs are the newest component in MDOT’s intelligent traffic system (ITS), and are designed to not only save time and money, but also increase safety.

The Metro Jackson Incident Management Project is the first MDOT project where dynamic message signs are being utilized.

“We have nine inbound dynamic message signs in the Jackson area,” said MDOT’s media and communication manager Carrie Adams. “We plan to install outbound DMS signs in the coming future. The DMS signs will be used to provide real-time travel information concerning incidents, construction work zones, maintenance activities.”

How it works

The signs will be operated by the agency’s Statewide Traffic Management Center located on North West Street in Jackson. The facility is staffed from 6 a.m. until 8 p.m. (On August 22 as the “go live” date for the DMS system approached, MDOT held a press conference and conducted tours of the Center to showcase the new traffic management capabilities of the Center and promote other initiatives under the Metro Jackson Incident Management Project.)

The staff’s operators collect information and monitor traffic flow via a network of closed-circuit TV cameras. The operators will also be connected to and gather information from other traffic incident management partners such as the Mississippi Highway Patrol, local police departments and MDOT itself. These operators will post the messages as well as splash up alerts on MDOT’s website for drivers at www.MSTraffic.com.

Looking ahead

The DMS system is still evolving. In addition to real-time travel information, they will also offer Amber Alerts, the service that helps officials find abducted children as quickly as possible. A large number of children have been rescued through Amber Alerts, which have resulted from tips called in by motorists responding to information displayed on dynamic message signs. Adams said the DMS system would probably begin offering Amber Alert messages later this year.

The state’s use of ITS is still evolving, too. The dynamic message signs are part of a suite of ITS tools MDOT has already in place that assists motorists. Other components include automated signal systems, portable changeable message signs, traffic control centers and the MSTraffic.com website. (Note: Information can be sent straight to mobile devices by visiting www.MSTraffic.com/mobile.)

In its “Overview of Mississippi’s Statewide ITS Vision” released late last year, MDOT said, “Mississippi is one of the first states to incorporate a strategic plan for Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS) fully within the framework of its long-range multimodal transportation plan. To this end, MDOT is focused on applying ITS technology where such applications contribute to statewide goals and objectives and support the state’s other non-ITS policies, investments and initiatives. While MDOT realizes the importance of continuing to expand its capital infrastructure (e.g. roadways, intermodal ports, airports and transit facilities), the state views ITS as a tool to better operate and manage these capital assets. Thus, the state believes that the success of its capital program will be closely linked with the technology and management (including ITS) strategies it adopts.”

The agency is exploring roles ITS might play in future traffic management issues. For instance, MDOT held a series of workshops and asked attendees to identify traffic management issues in their area. The areas of focus were the Gulf Coast, Jackson, Hattiesburg and DeSoto County. A few examples of responses include: Coast casino industry interest in providing door-to-door delivery of passengers in incompatible with Coast Transit Authority operations; the mix of commuter traffic and airport ingress/egress traffic in the Jackson area results in heavy congestion and a significant number of flow conflicts; high truck volumes in the downtown Hattiesburg area affects traffic flow; and, increasing truck distribution centers off U.S. 78 in DeSoto County will increase the intensity of truck activity.

Contact MBJ staff writer Wally Northway at wally.northway@msbusiness.com.

About Wally Northway

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