Will traffic soon be a thing of the past?
If you’ve been driving northbound on the Jane Addams Memorial Tollway, you’ve likely seen construction crews erecting long medal archways that stretch the length of the expressway. Turns out, those archways are soon-to-be giant, scoreboard-looking signs designed to reduce traffic and keep people safe.
You can be forgiven for thinking it’s an elaborate game of tic tac toe. But it’s no game. Rather, it’s the byproduct of the Illinois Tollway’s new safety initiative called “smart road,” a series of dynamic signs that alert drivers of subpar road conditions that lurk in the miles ahead.
Part of a $2.5 billion development project to “replace, expand, and update the entire tollway” for the first time since its original construction in 1958, the signs use a series of brightly colored arrows and Xs to indicate blocked lanes and point drivers to safe zones, effectively limiting traffic congestion and keeping people safe while crews deal with accidents or heavy construction zones.
Expected to go live this spring, the signs will reportedly be controlled and updated remotely by tollway engineers, who will make changes based the conditions they routinely monitor.
WBEZ’s Curious City got the scoop, thanks to an inquiry from a listener. What follows is an expansive look at ways in which other cities are using smart roads to improve conditions on the road, and why Illinois is taking progressive steps to seamlessly integrate the new tech into our lives for the better.
The broadcast is worth listening to, if only for the fact that you’ll learn how smart roads are being used in other cities around the country. Despite Illinois’s foray into the new tech, others states have been using it for years. Seattle first began using smart road technology in 2010, which reduced weekday collisions by seven percent. Weekend collision were reduced by more than 20 percent.
While safety tops the list of reasons why smart roads have begun to capture popular attention, one of its goals is to reduce traffic congestion. That may be hoping for too much, but we can at least remain optimistic.