Lake County could use phones, music players to monitor traffic

A real-time travel information system that pings signals off motorists' cellphones and other wireless devices to gauge traffic flow could be tested in Lake County.

The BlueTOAD system, which stands for Bluetooth Travel-time Origination And Destination, selects Bluetooth devices in passing cars and calculates travel times and road speeds by re-detecting the same devices as they move.

The Lake County Board is considering testing the system on Washington Street between Route 83 and Sheridan Road. That stretches more than 10 miles between Grayslake and Waukegan.

It would combine with the existing Lake County PASSAGE network, which monitors traffic through video cameras and allows employees to adjust traffic-signal timing and put out alerts.

“It's an exciting thing,” Assistant County Engineer Al Giertych said. “We're really interested in it.”

Installing the equipment, linking it to PASSAGE and testing the system would cost the county about $60,525, according to documents.

Two county board committees discussed the proposal Wednesday. The full board could vote on the plan at its Aug. 9 meeting.

The BlueTOAD system, manufactured by Madison, Wis.-based TrafficCast, can distinguish wireless-enabled cellular phones, music players and similar devices from each other because the items have unique digital identification markers called Media Access Control addresses.

The system works anonymously and does not record information stored on the personal devices, according to the product's website. The devices' identifying markers are erased from the system after travel times are recorded.

“It doesn't make any connection to the device,” Giertych said. “It just detects the presence of the Bluetooth device and reads the MAC address.”

Processing of travel times and vehicle speeds occurs in real time, with delays of less than two minutes, the TrafficCast website says.

The software weeds out information from buses or trains that have multiple occupants using Bluetooth devices, Giertych said.

If approved, the equipment would be installed in the traffic-control cabinets at eight intersections and tested this fall for 60 days.

Relaying the traffic information to drivers would not be part of the test. That could happen later, if county leaders opt to fully implement the program.

Traffic information could be shared with drivers via electronic signs on the road and by computer, Giertych said. Such signs already are common on Chicago-area highways.

BlueTOAD technology recently was used by the Illinois Department of Transportation to monitor traffic during construction on the Eisenhower Expressway in Chicago.