Tollway aims for I-90 'smart corridor'

Come 2016, drivers on the Jane Addams Tollway (I-90) should receive advance real-time information about blocked lanes, crashes and congestion via a series of electronic message signs.

Known as active traffic management or a “smart corridor,” the new technology involves gantries placed every half-mile that display short alerts about traffic, speeds and alternate routes.

It will also advise motorists if Pace express buses are using the shoulder or if vehicles can use the shoulder in certain cases.

The improvements are being installed on I-90 between the Kennedy Expressway and Barrington Road as part of the Illinois tollway's widening and rebuilding project on the Jane Addams, officials said Wednesday. It should ease traffic flow and improve safety, officials said.

The changes should allow the tollway to “leverage more capacity of the roadway as a result of building it right,” tollway Executive Director Kristi Lafleur said.

Staff at tollway headquarters will check cameras and traffic sensors to “monitor the road more dynamically,” Lafleur added.

For example, drivers “might have the opportunity to pass under two to three different signs: first, warning if there's an accident; then, signaling them to get over to the next lane; and finally, there might be a symbol directing traffic not to use that lane at all.”

Similar technology has been used in Europe, resulting in an up to 7 percent improvement getting vehicles through congested areas faster. There's also been a 3 to 30 percent decrease in traffic incidents, such as crashes, and an up to 50 percent drop in secondary incidents that typically involve a vehicle hitting another vehicle that's already stopped, officials said.

The tollway picked the Kennedy Expressway to Barrington Road section since it's the most congested area on the Jane Addams, but there's the potential to extend the system to Huntley, Lafleur said. The rollout is expected in late 2016 when the widening project is completed.

“We're going to learn a lot from this,” she said, noting that there's interest in expanding the technology elsewhere on the system.

The catch is, installing sensors and cables underground involves tearing up pavement. The agency intends to rebuild portions of the central Tri-State in the near future, which makes it a candidate for a “smart corridor” makeover, Lafleur said.

The messaging will cost about $17.8 million to install. Annual costs are estimated at about $757,800 involving $436,800 for maintenance and $321,000 for operations, including three additional employees.

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