How Bluetooth and sensors help Michigan drivers avoid road construction snarls

Fri, 2015-04-17 06:00 -- Doug Peeples


Construction season adds angst to already messy commutes. In Michigan, a combination of sensors and Bluetooth technology is helping drivers negotiate a major road construction project on a stretch of U.S. 31.

The Michigan Transportation Department installation in East Bay Township is designed to help drivers find out how long it will take them to get from one end of the project to the other by communicating delays in affected lanes.

How it works
Every two minutes sensors located at each end of the construction area send the information to a website. "It’s a nice new technology to help people in their planning," MDOT spokesman James Lake told The Record Eagle. The website offers a construction area map and drivers can click on the affected lanes to find out how fast traffic is traveling. If the length of time is more than nine minutes, the lane turns red.

The sensors pick up Bluetooth device signals and measure how it takes the vehicle to travel from the beginning to the end of the construction. "It just senses the presence of the signal.  We don’t record any information and we don’t collect any information about the device itself other than the signal," Lake explained.

While the rebuilding affects only 1.5 miles of the highway, traffic will be slowed because five lanes will be cut down to one during the course of the project which isn’t expected to wrap up until late June. Lake said delays could be as long as 30 minutes during heavy traffic hours.

A relatively inexpensive solution
Other cities and transportation departments may want to consider adopting the same system. The sensors MDOT is using cost about $10,000, which when compared to the cost of construction projects and the delays they cause, may seem worth it.

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Doug Peeples is a Portland, Oregon-based writer specializing in technology and energy. Follow @smartccouncil on Twitter.

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