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Arlington eyes real time travel system for Route 50

Friday - 12/30/2011, 1:48pm  ET

Good news for thousands of Route 50 commuters: Arlington County plans to install a real-time travel system for the highway that will tell all drivers how long it takes to get from one point to another, from one end of the county to the other.

So you can count the minutes as you wrestle with the daily traffic mess.

The county is looking for a contractor to build a 10-mile fiber-optic communications network along Clarendon and Wilson boulevards, Glebe Road, Columbia Pike and Lee Highway — that’s 45,366 linear feet of conduit — and then install an advanced travel time system.

The project, per the solicitation documents, will feature “dynamic message signs and real-time vehicle detections in either direction.” Specifically, it will include Bluetooth detectors along Route 50 to “collectively report anonymous Bluetooth device data.” The data will be sent to a central server where it will be processed using filters and algorithms that calculate the time it takes for a vehicle to travel from one point to the next.

Of course, if the system shows a massive delay, it’s not like there are many good work-around options. Interstate 66? Interstate 395? Route 7? Neighborhood streets? Best of luck.

This is phase two of a three-phase, $20 million project (partially funded with federal dollars) to upgrade Arlington's antiquated traffic-control network. That network, running on copper cables, was installed in the 1980s and is nearing the end of its useful life, county officials say. It is slow, unreliable and lacks capacity.

Last January, the Arlington Board agreed to pay Chesapeake Electrical Systems Inc. $4 million to lay six miles of fiber optic cable, interconnecting 54 traffic signals. That was the first phase.

The solicitation for the second phase calls for work to be complete in less than a year. Bids are scheduled to be opened on Jan. 11.