Tollway leaders turned on the Jane Addams Tollway's "SmartRoad" Tuesday, activating 29 dynamic message boards that display real-time traffic information and allow for express Pace buses on the shoulder.
The digital signs between Barrington Road and O'Hare International Airport also deliver alerts and direct drivers into lanes when crashes occur.
"The Northwest suburbs' biggest-ever transit improvement is finished," Pace Chairman Richard Kwasneski said before transportation leaders clambered onto one of the express buses for a test run.
The new technology, costing $33 million, is a first for Illinois and may offer a learning curve for some drivers, explained tollway Executive Director Greg Bedalov.
One large message board will typically offer travel times or road information frequently. Smaller signs over individual lanes will be dark until an event, such as a crash, occurs. When that happens, the message board will warn drivers of upcoming lane shifts.
Green arrows will show if a lane is open, yellow arrows will indicate if vehicles need to change lanes or go cautiously, and a red X will be displayed when lanes are closed.
The system was designed to be "as intuitive as it can be," Bedalov said. When accidents occur, "we need to notify people in a sequential manner starting all the way back."
Pace collaborated with the tollway and is running a series of improved or new express buses that can hop on the inside shoulder, or "Flex Lane," when traffic is congested. The Flex Lane is designated with a message board over the shoulder.
"This allows the buses to keep moving and provide reliable service to Pace customers," tollway Chairman Bob Schillerstrom said.
Three park-n-rides are part of the project, including one at I-90 and Randall Road that is complete and a second at I-90 and Route 25 that will open soon. Work on a third park-n-ride at Barrington Road and I-90, including a pedestrian bridge and bus stops on the toll road, should wrap up in late fall.
New Pace express buses include: Route 603 between the Elgin Transportation Center and Rosemont CTA station; Route 605 between the Randall Road park-n-ride and ETC; and Route 607 between Randall Road and the Schaumburg Transportation Center.
Pace pioneered a Bus-on-Shoulder express service on I-55 in 2011 and attracted new riders while improving the on-time performance from 65 percent to 92 percent, Kwasneski said. The agency expects its I-90 service to be even more popular.
"It's very convenient, you get to park for free, it's got Wi-Fi and charging ports," he said.
Officials said they would share traffic information with travel apps such as Google Maps and Waze.
SmartRoad also creates a "real-world test lab," Bedalov said. The system's infrastructure can accommodate growing technology such as "connected cars," allowing communication directly with vehicles in the future, he noted.