The Washington Post

VDOT announces $34 million tech upgrade for I-66, but is that really going to help? Maybe, kinda

Interstate 66 in the Fairfax area. VDOT is going to install more information signs, more lane control signs, speed sensors and cameras, all in hopes of improving the flow of one of America’s most congested roads without adding more lanes. (Katherine Frey/The Washington Post)

But can this $34 million (mostly federal money) really make a difference? As our Dr. Gridlock, Bob Thomson, pointed out in 2011, I-66 is one of the most congested highways in America. We already have electric signs telling us traffic is bad ahead. The ATM will add more signs, traffic cameras and speed sensors (but not for enforcement) and lane control lights mounted above the road to shift traffic in the event of accidents or other blockages. Shoulder lanes will be used at all hours as needed, not just peak hours. Inside the Beltway, the ramp lights that control entry to I-66 will get smarter technology. Thomson’s 2011 story has many more details and here is a VDOT fact sheet.

Jennifer McCord, a VDOT spokeswoman, said the increased information could help traffic flow and better inform drivers, and will almost certainly help emergency responders trying to get to incidents, which in turn will be cleared more quickly. But still, too many cars on not enough appears to be a formula that technology can’t solve, right?

“We do the absolute most we can with the pavement we have,” McCord said. “If we give people more information and move them around, it keeps things running a little better.” It is the first use of such technology in Northern Virginia, and is predicted to be completed by the spring of 2015.

Will it make a difference? You tell us, below.

And while you do, you can watch this VDOT video, which doesn’t appear to have any sound, but will make you feel like you’re flying at high-speed just above the I-66 traffic, like an upper express lane. If the $34 million upgrade can do that for drivers, that would totally be worth it.

Tom Jackman is a native of Northern Virginia and has been covering the region for The Post since 1998.


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