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The Tampa Bay SunGuide Freeway Management System

Peter J. Yauch, P.E.
Technical Director of Traffic Engineering and ITS
TEI Engineers & Planners, Tampa, Florida

The Tampa Bay area, located on the west coast of Florida, is well known for its beautiful beaches and pleasant year-round temperatures. It includes the cities of Tampa, St. Petersburg, Clearwater, and a multitude of smaller cities, towns, and communities. Home of the World Champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers, it is also home to 2.3 million people, many of whom drive on the area's freeway system on a regular basis.

As the name implies, the area is centered around Tampa Bay, which is a large body of water connected to the Gulf of Mexico. St. Petersburg and Clearwater are located in Pinellas County, on a peninsula between the Gulf and the Bay; Tampa is located on the east side of the Bay, in Hillsborough County. Interstate 275 connects the two counties, and crosses the Bay twice - on the Howard Frankland Bridge and on the Sunshine Skyway Bridge, which extends down into Manatee County toward the Bradenton / Sarasota areas. Interstate 4 extends from its terminus at Interstate 275 in downtown Tampa eastward to the Orlando and Daytona Beach areas, and Interstate 75 runs north-south along the east side of Tampa Bay.

The Florida Department of Transportation's District Seven, which serves the Tampa Bay area, has embarked on a program to implement a Freeway Management System on the area's Interstate Highway System. Nationally, Freeway Management Systems have long provided a tool to help keep traffic flowing smoothly along our expressways and freeways. By providing timely identification and verification of a congestion-causing incident, the system can assist in the dispatching of appropriate emergency personnel and equipment to the scene. In addition, the system can provide information about the incident to motorists, to prepare them for congestion or hazards, or to divert them to alternative facilities. In short, the system can save lives, time, and money.

The Freeway Management System will also be invaluable during hurricane and other inclement weather evacuations. As the Tampa Bay area's population and density are increasing, moving residents from the low-lying coastal communities inland to safety is a critical concern. By allowing emergency management personnel to determine traffic and weather conditions from a centralized location, and provide information to motorists concerning shelters and lodging opportunities, the coordination of the evacuation process will be made easier.

The system will also be a major tool in traffic management for tourism and special events. Raymond James Stadium, the St. Petersburg Times Forum, and Tropicana Field are all served by the Interstate system. Buccaneers, Lightning hockey, and Devil Rays baseball games place a significant demand on the area roadways. In addition, annual tourism attractions such as the Gasparilla Pirate Invasion, the Florida State Fair, the Plant City Strawberry Festival, Spring Break, and Spring Baseball training, all impact the travel patterns of the area.

The Tampa Bay SunGuide program will provide for full incident management capabilities on the Interstate Highway system within Pinellas and Hillsborough Counties, with ultimate expansion to include Interstate 75 in Pasco and Hernando Counties. The inclusion of non-Interstate facilities, including the Gandy Bridge, Courtney Campbell Causeway, Veterans Expressway, Suncoast Parkway, and Lee Roy Selmon Expressway, is also anticipated for the future.

Within the areas of full incident management, the freeway infrastructure will include vehicle detection stations spaced at approximately one-half mile intervals. Using video detection technology and a variety of incident detection algorithms, the system will be able to automatically sense the presence of most congestion-causing incidents. Cellular callers to 9-1-1 or *FHP (the Florida Highway Patrol's motorist assistance line) services will supplement the system's capabilities to determine the presence of an incident.

As a means of confirming the presence of an incident, as well as monitoring traffic flow, video cameras will be located at approximately one mile intervals. These color video cameras will have full pan, tilt, and zoom capabilities, allowing system operators to observe areas of interest along the roadway system.

Motorists along these corridors will be provided timely information by means of regularly spaced dynamic message signs. These signs, which use light emitting diodes (LEDs) for forming alphanumeric characters and graphic symbols, will provide advance information about incidents and traffic conditions. These will be particularly critical at major diversion points, allowing for the rerouting of heavy traffic flows to alternate facilities.

Tying these field devices together, and back to the system's control facility, will be an extensive communications network. To support the bandwidth necessary for video imaging, and to provide a reliable, noise-resistant media, fiber optic communications will be used. Gigabit Ethernet technology, with Internet Protocol addressable devices, will be implemented to secure an off-the-shelf solution to the communications requirements.

The system's traffic management facility, known as the Tampa Bay SunGuide Center, will also serve as the District's Emergency Operations Center and will also serve as the regional law enforcement dispatch center of the Florida Highway Patrol and other state law enforcement agencies. The center will be a hardened facility, allowing operations to continue before, during, and after a hurricane or other severe storms. Combining the three functions will allow a multiple agency approach to traffic management all in one centralized facility.

The operations staff at the Center will be responsible for utilizing the system as an effective tool for traffic management. A typical scenario for an incident starts with the system identifying the location of a possible incident, based on the detector data being received. The operator will view that section of the roadway to confirm the presence of the incident, and to determine the needed response, which may include dispatching police, fire rescue, a Road Ranger service patrol vehicle, or DOT maintenance forces. The operator will also activate appropriate messages on nearby dynamic message signs, updating the information as the incident evolves. The media may be notified, based on the extent of the incident. In case of a need for the diversion of traffic to alternative surface streets, the operator will contact the appropriate traffic management center to implement special signal timings.

The first phase of the Tampa Bay SunGuide system will come on line in 2006, with additional phases, covering all of Pinellas and Hillsborough Counties, over the following six years.

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