FROM CQ WEEKLY VANTAGE POINT
Oct. 26, 2009 – Page 2431
Is Technology a Way Through the Traffic?
By Colby Itkowitz, CQ Staff
When she was secretary of Transportation, for the final 27 months of the Bush administration, Mary E. Peters angered Congress by using some discretionary highway money at her disposal for a program that aimed to apply advanced technology to reduce congestion rather than by just building more roads.
Now, after almost a year in her new role as transportation consultant, Peters is preparing to lobby Congress for similar technology in the next highway and transit authorization bill. Specifically, the one-time Arizona transportation director is promoting an advanced traffic-light system that adjusts for conditions – allowing cars through intersections, for instance, when no traffic is coming the other way. The sensory cameras are being developed by Aldis Inc., where Peters is a board member.
By the Federal Highway Administration’s estimate, each dollar invested in such traffic signaling technology saves the public $40 in fuel and time. Peters wants Congress to set aside $1 billion a year for states to use such technology. “One of the really important things about technology is that it can be implemented very quickly at relatively low costs,” she says. “These technologies are proven to reduce congestion. People think it’s a great idea, but then it doesn’t happen.”
The federal highway program does fund research for new technology, but a lot of it is already developed. Peters says the money she’s after should be used to help states implement the technology.
University of Virginia professor William T. Scherer, who’s president of the Intelligent Transportation Systems Society, said the federal government needs to get involved and get creative. There’s potential, he says, for partnerships with private interests such as Google Inc., Apple Inc. and automobile companies to equip cars with systems that alert drivers when, say, there’s an accident ahead or a patch of black ice.
“We’re not going to build our way out of this,” Scherer says. “The vision is to figure out what is the smartest way to allow vehicles to talk to vehicles. How is this all going to play together? We have the research; the technology is there.”