The new Active Traffic Management system, which is supposed to turn Interstate 66 into a smarter road, has disappointed some drivers on what to them is a key travel issue.

This network of sensors, cameras and electronic signs is supposed to do many things to smooth travel, including warning drivers of trouble ahead and what they should do about it. But the thing many motorists took note of was that it allows traffic managers more flexibility in opening the shoulder lanes when the regular lanes become very slow.

Now, look at a string of comments I got from drivers during my online discussion Monday.

Active Traffic Management on I-66: The Virginia Department of Transportation turned on the Active Traffic Management (ATM) system on I-66 this past week. I thought one of the important selling points of the ATM system was the ability to open the shoulder lane at times other than during rush hour since there are now cameras that can determine if the lane is clear. I figured this would be a huge game changer on weekends when there is often a lot of traffic and the shoulder is closed. I was rather unpleasantly surprised to see that the lane had red Xs over it this weekend, with plenty of congestion. What gives? Will they be opening it on weekends or was the ability to open the lane outside of rush hour limited to traffic incidents?

I-66 boondoggle: Why are we WASTING an astronomigical amount of hard-earned, TAXPAYERS’ money — $38.6 million — on “management systems” on I-66, why not take the SIMPLE AND FREE route of just keeping the “red” shoulder lane open 24/7? BTW, so far the management system has been a complete FAILURE, says me, who sits in traffic needlessly when the “Red X STOP” lane is supposed to be “Green Go!” Stop the boondoogle NOW. Easy solution: Get developers to FAIRLY kick in money for the roads they congested to begin with.

New Traffic Management on I-66: Thursday afternoon around 5 p.m., traffic was crawling on I-66 west from the Beltway to Route 50. I never made it above 20mph. One sign reduced the speed limit to 50 another said to resume normal speeds. Other signs said 45 and 40. Great, but with the average speed around 8 mph, knowing the speed limit had been reduced to 40 mph meant that I was only 32 miles per hour slower than the speed limit. Might as well have put 15 on the signs as that would have been closer to reality. End result was 35-40 minutes to get from the Beltway to Route 50 … Bravo new traffic management system, you worked wonderfully, NOT!

66 new sign system: Are their specific criteria for opening the red X lanes during non-rush hour times? Traffic on 66 East Saturday afternoon was heavy, and the signs were helpfully telling us the speed limit was 50 or 45 or 40 or 35 mph as we were going much slower than that … but the red X’s remained. Also, it was particularly helpful the other day on 66 West during rush hour that the signs told us to “resume normal speed” and re-posted the 55 mph speed limit … as we sat in bumper to bumper traffic near Nutley Street.

DG: Since the system has been active for less than a week, I’d give VDOT traffic managers some time to learn how to work the new toy. But I was particularly curious about the shoulder lane issue, and asked VDOT spokesman Michael Murphy about it.

“Our operations folks say that traffic speeds need to drop below 40 miles per hour before the shoulder lanes will be open to traffic,” he said. “They say they will continue to evaluate the threshold and make adjustments as needed to maintain the balance between keeping the lanes as shoulders for safety and as open traffic lanes for congestion mitigation.”

That safety argument makes sense to me. The shoulders were built to provide drivers with at least a bit of shelter in emergencies. Also, they give emergency responders access to crash sites. I’ve never been comfortable with opening up shoulders to regular traffic. It’s a desperation move, rather than a solution to traffic congestion.

More generally, Murphy said, “Our ops folks also say that staff are still learning to operate the ATM system in a real-world setting.”

So please continue to send comments on your experience with the new system in various conditions.