Traffic engineering student wins first place for paper
Traffic engineers often utilize Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS) data to find solutions to distant problems. Students taking part in the ITS Heartland Student Competition examined a congestion problem based on traffic data from the Washington, D.C., area and wrote a paper proposing a solution for commuters travelling in, out and around the nation’s capital.
MU civil engineering graduate student Boris Claros won first place at the competition for his paper analyzing traffic patterns on D.C.’s Interstate 495 corridor between Interstates 95 and 66. In particular, he focused on the congestion issues around the American Legion Memorial Bridge, which spans the Potomac River and connects Maryland to Virginia.
The competition required all participants use 2012 data from the Regional Integrated Transportation Information System (RITIS), an ITS observation and collection system brainstormed by the National Capital Region Transportation Planning Board and developed by the University of Maryland Center for Advanced Transportation Technology.
I-495, also known as the “Capital Beltway,” encircles Washington, D.C., and spans anywhere from six-to-10 lanes. The American Legion Bridge sees more than 230,000 average vehicle crossings daily. It has five lanes each direction, with the outer lane on each side serving as an entrance/exit lane.
The bridge also is often the site of traffic bottlenecks, areas of congestion where traffic merges into fewer lanes and is linked to a specific source or incident, the causes for which Claros identified.
“I classified groups of incidents and mapped them over a six-mile stretch,” he said.
Accounting for every type of incident — 16 categories total, including incident duration, seasonal and time-of-day traffic shifts — Claros also analyzed areas of traffic bottlenecks over a three-month period, identifying 12 along that section of I-495 and ranking them based on impact, measured by multiplying the average distance, average time duration and number of occurrences.
With an impact distance stretching an average 12 miles, the effects of the bottleneck lasting an average of just more than four hours and 53 incidents, the bottleneck at the American Legion Memorial Bridge ranked worst.
His solutions include closer video coverage of incident areas paired with more frequent use of dynamic message signs (DMS) prior to the incident site.
“Since most of the drivers lived or worked in the area, they knew their way around,” Claros said. “The DMS signs would help drivers make the choice to stay on the interstate or go another route.”
A second-year master’s student and a Fulbright Scholar, Claros’ main research focuses on red light cameras, but he wanted to take a class not related to that. This semester was his first ITS-based class. There, he learned about the paper competition.
“We all worked on papers as a class,” he said. “We peer-reviewed earlier this semester.”
For winning the competition, he was invited to present his paper at the ITS Heartland Annual Meeting in Topeka, Kan., in March.
Claros also took it upon himself to use the RITIS data for another paper that he submitted to the Annual Student Essay Competition for the 2013 ITS America Annual Meeting.
“I was very proud of myself,” he said. “This was the first competition I’d entered. The conference was a good experience, and I got to talk with many professionals in the field.”
ITS Heartland is a chapter of ITS America and serves as a platform for sharing ITS data, projects and activities across the five states — Missouri, Iowa, Kansas, Nebraska and Oklahoma — in its jurisdiction. The organization operates with support from all five states’ departments of transportation, major universities in each state and the Federal Highway Administration.
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