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First place poster examines effect of temporary ramp meters

Eric Zhu won first place in the poster session at the 2012 Traffic and Safety Conference for his poster on the effect temporary ramp meters have in work zones along two of the area’s largest highways. Next to him is one of the ramp meters used in his research.

A University of Missouri civil engineering graduate student won first place in the poster session at the 2012 Traffic and Safety Conference for his poster on the effect temporary ramp meters have in work zones along two of the area’s largest highways. Graduate student Zhongyuan “Eric” Zhu won first place for his poster examining data collected last year for the project he is working on as a master’s student with Associate Professor Carlos Sun and Assistant Professor Praveen Edara.

Ramp meters are designed to regulate the flow of traffic that merges onto larger highways, particularly during rush hour periods. Last summer, Zhu and other researchers on the project placed a temporary ramp meter at the halfway point on the entrance ramps along Interstate 70 at West Boulevard, Providence Road, U.S. 63 and St. Charles Road, and on the entrance ramp to northbound U.S. 63 from Stadium Boulevard.

“In America, there are a lot of ramp meters installed in California and in the Twin Cities in Minnesota,” Zhu said. “They control the volume of traffic on the ramps and keep the main line of traffic flowing.

“But it’s a new thing,” Zhu added. “In Missouri, not many people have seen ramp meters.” He also noted that there was very little research into how the presence of a ramp meter affects highway traffic going through a work zone. Zhu said work zones are unique because that often constricts traffic already on the highway.

“Temporary ramp meters near work zones are aimed at improving safety and traffic mobility during the days a work zone is operating, involving lane closures, for example,” Edara said. “The temporary nature has an effect on driver behavior, and we wanted to document that. Also, state departments of transportation are always trying to identify ways to increase safety through work zones.”

Edara added that permanently installed ramp meters often don’t function continually. Many of them, he said, are only operational during certain hours or days.

Zhu and his team set up four cameras and two radar guns at each site to collect data. They tested using a meter with a two-head signal (red and green) and a meter with a three-head signal (red, yellow and green). What they checked for when looking at the data was how drivers complied with the meters and how the meters affected speeds and traffic flow on the highway and the ramp.

His preliminary conclusions showed that driver compliance was better with a three-head signal, possibly due to a better familiarity with the device, and the average speed decreased by about 10 miles per hour when the device was in use.

Central Missouri Chapter of the Institute of Transportation Engineers (CMITE) sponsored the contest, which is in its third year. Representatives from the organization served as judges and gave a cash prize of $100.

Five other MU posters were presented that day by graduate student Andrew Mackley, doctoral students Yi Hou and Jalil Kianfar , MU industrial engineering Professor James Noble, doctoral student Gaohao Luo, Transportation Infrastructure Center Director Charles Nemmers and civil engineering doctoral student Lei.

The 63rd Traffic and Safety Conference was held May 15 to 17 in Columbia. It was co-sponsored by MU, CMITE, the Institute of Transportation Engineers, the Missouri Department of Transportation, the National Highway and Transportation Safety Administration and U.S. Department of Transportation, Federal Highway Administration.