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MU sweeps top two spots at Missouri Traffic and Safety Conference competition

Henry Brown and Roozbeh Rahmani pose with a novelty check.

Graduate student Roozbeh Rahmani, posing here with research engineer Henry Brown, earned first place with “License Plate Recognition Technology’s Potential Benefits to Intelligent Transportation Systems: An Arterial Travel Time Case Study” at the Missouri Traffic and Safety Conference student poster competition. Photo courtesy of Carlos Sun.

A pair of University of Missouri civil engineering student projects took top honors at the Missouri Traffic and Safety Conference student poster competition, hosted by the Central Missouri chapter of the Institute of Transportation Engineers.

Graduate student Roozbeh Rahmani and undergraduate research assistant Paige Martz earned first place with “License Plate Recognition Technology’s Potential Benefits to Intelligent Transportation Systems: An Arterial Travel Time Case Study,” and graduate students Amir Khezerzadeh and Tim Cope took second with “Temporary Traffic Control in Innovative Geometrical Design Work Zones.”

Rahmani and Martz’s poster and research dealt with traffic signal synchronization. Cameras already in use on Columbia’s College Avenue took video of license plates and tracked the time it took cars that stayed on the roadway to get from the intersection at Ashland Road to the intersection at Walnut Street, a distance of about one mile. This gave the researchers the ability to study how the patterns of the traffic signals between Point A and Point B affected travel time and to draw conclusions on how a different signal pattern could make for more amenable and safer traffic flow. They had an approximately 91 percent match rate, meaning their software is able to re-identify 91 percent of the vehicles that passed both points.

“The accuracy [of measurement] is outstanding compared to other studies,” Rahmani said. “We concluded that this segment, the travel time could decrease up to 30 percent by coordinating these signals. It could be 30 percent more efficient.”

The poster also illustrated a replicable and cost-effective way for cities to reevaluate their own traffic signal patterns by using the cameras atop the signals. Most cities with this type of traffic flow pattern already have cameras at the types of busy intersections and arterial roadways most likely to be affected, so the technology needed to study the issue is already in place in such cases. The only thing needed is the software to match the plates from one point to another to determine travel time.

“This technology could be used for origin-destination studies, which are the most expensive surveys in transportation,” Rahmani said. “We have cameras out there. Why can’t we use it for all these studies in real time every day without any extra cost?”

Rahmani added that the experience he gained in presenting at the Intelligent Transportation Society, Heartland competition — where he finished second — allowed him to see what it took to claim the top spot in terms of presenting to judges. And the first-place honor gave him a jolt of confidence going forward.

“These two [competitions] were the first two big catches I had here in the United States,” the Iranian-born Rahmani said. “It’s a big turning point for me, because I said, ‘Now I can beat the big dogs here.’”

Khezerzadeh and Cope’s poster created a set of guidelines for adjusting traffic flow during construction and maintenance of innovative geometric designs — including diverging diamond interchanges (DDI), roundabouts, median U-Turns (MUT), displaced left turns (DLT), single point urban interchanges (SPUI) and restricted crossover U-Turns (RCUT).

They reviewed best practices, then provided a 16-question survey to different state Departments of Transportation and other organizations to determine how they currently handle scheduling of construction and traffic detours in these instances. They followed up with several respondents via phone interviews to get even more nuanced data, even acquiring design plans from some. They also gleaned information on challenges faced during these projects, how departments alert the public to what’s happening and different case studies.

“We had to make construction phasing with partial closures plans for all of them,” Khezerzadeh said. “At the end, we figured out we can construct all of them without closing the whole intersection or roadway.”

Khezerzadeh said the experience of beating out a variety of strong competition is motivating him to go even further in the future.

“I’m working on two projects,” Khezerzadeh said. “That was great motivation for me to attend other competitions. We have another conference in Ames, Iowa, in August. I’m more interested in this stuff and trying to do better for that conference.”