Macomb County is made up of 27 cities, townships and villages. Connecting those communities are 1,700 miles of road and 740 traffic signals. The county’s residents, more than 864,000 individuals, rely on this transportation network to get to work, school, stores and ultimately, to their homes. That’s a lot of usage, and it often results in back-ups, accidents and fatalities. How do you solve these issues? Our county might have the answer.
Smart and connected roads
We have smart phones, smart homes and smart cars – why not smart roads? Here in Macomb County, that’s no longer a question; it’s a reality. The Macomb County Department of Roads is leading the country in creating a smart infrastructure network that can communicate with vehicles, bikes, buses and pedestrians; improving the overall mobility experience. The county was recently able to showcase this technology at the Intelligent Transportation Society of America (ITSA) annual meeting hosted in Detroit. Along with our partners at MDOT and SMART, county leaders demonstrated how transit signal priority that uses dedicated short range communication can expedite a bus route by extending green lights. This is one of the many pilot programs being explored in Macomb County, and while it sounds simple, it has taken years of planning and development to get to this stage.
How did we get here?
It all started with COMTEC, the Macomb County Communications and Technology Center. Completed in 2013, this 25,000-square-foot facility houses traffic communications, 911 emergency dispatch and information technology services for the entire county. Through a system of 230 cameras, the center provides 24/7 situational awareness to residents, businesses and first responders. In addition to providing this essential service, the network also allows the county to build a Vehicle-to-Infrastructure (V2I) communication system. And with car connectivity on the rise (by 2020, more than 75 percent of vehicles shipped will be connected), this system is increasingly relevant.
In a recent interview, John Abraham, director of traffic and operations at the Macomb County Department of Roads, described why this is important:
“In one scenario, if a connected car gets into a crash, an alert comes to the center immediately and sends information that the airbag was deployed, and the extent of the damage. The emergency dispatch center gets the information also, and we can deploy the right resources to the crash using the GPS location of the accident,” he said.
Ultimately, Macomb County would like to increase safety on area roads and decrease the number of car accidents. With the V2I system and vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) communications now available through some auto manufacturers, this goal is within reach.
How it works
An integral part of this connectivity and vehicle communications are roadside units (RSU), boxes that gather and broadcast information at an intersection. In addition to signaling back to COMTEC so traffic signals can be prioritized for emergency vehicles or during periods of heavy road usage, the RSU can link with connected vehicles and alert them to changing lights or other hazards. Eventually, RSUs will be able to give speed guidance or alert a driver that a lane is closing due to construction. And in the future, RSUs and connected vehicles could provide COMTEC with information about vacant parking spots and even communicate with other modes of transportation, like buses, pedestrians and bicycles, all using the same technology.
Macomb County currently has five RSUs completely operational, and will install 20 to 25 additional units this summer. Federal grants will provide the funding to have 301 RSUs installed by early 2019, and the goal is to have all 740 traffic signals in the county connected within three years. This makes Macomb a leader in smart and connected roadways. Only a few dozen locations across the U.S. have installed connected technology and Macomb is among the handful that also have an operational RSU. That’s certainly impressive; but of course it makes sense that the Motor City region would be a trailblazer in this effort. We make the cars, therefore we lead the way in next generation mobility.
Vicky Rad is the deputy director of the Macomb County Department of Planning and Economic Development.