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article imageCalifornia's Old King's Highway gets a 21st Century Upgrade Special

By Jonathan Farrell     Nov 15, 2012 in Technology
Menlo Park - 21st Century technology is making strides along El Camino Real as the San Mateo County "Smart Corridor" Project is now underway.
Named "The Royal Road" after the King of Spain when the conquistadors and padres set foot in California in the 18th Century. El Camino Real is the major thoroughfare that connected all the 21 Missions in Early California. Still the main road up and down the state, portions of the old "King's Highway" are getting a 21st Century upgrade.
In this age of computers, wireless communications, digital imaging and GPS devices, the information collected and dispersed now is stepping up to even more sophistication as transponders and such are part of the everyday commute.
"Smart technology" is in everyday life. It is used to do many things along our roadways and highways that before had to be done by crews manually. One obvious task is the collecting of toll fares as many who cross the Golden Gate Bridge have seen. Transponders have replaced almost all of the toll collectors.
Yet transponders and automatic road-sign changers are not the only aspects to this "smart technology" that is rapidly becoming the way highways and roads are managed and attended to. Referred to as an "Intelligent Transportation System" the $35 million dollar project will improve the mobility of vehicles and mass transit along Highway 101.
The Smart Corridor project is located along predefined designated arterial routes, parallel to the US 101, connecting US 101 to El Camino Real including and not limited to SR 82 (El Camino Real) between I-380 and Santa Clara County line. What began late this summer is anticipated to be completed by the end of 2013. Once the project is completed, it will cover 20 miles along El Camino Real (State Route 82) from San Bruno to Menlo Park and along local streets in San Mateo County.
"We're working together to help people get to where they are going easier and faster," said Caltrans Director Malcolm Dougherty. "This is a good example of how technology can help us make better use of the roads we already have."
The project is sponsored by City and County Association of Governments of San Mateo County (C/CAG). This reporter got to speak to Ralph Napier, spokesman for the C/CAG of San Mateo County. He reassured that the technology used for this project will not be used in any other way. "We faced that issue of 'big brother' right from the start. All the surveillance will only be to help the flow of traffic. No data will be saved or stored," he said.
Over the last three years, C/CAG staff has been successful in competing with other counties to receive approval of approximately $30 million of State grants for this project. Funding from Proposition 1B, a 2006 voter-approved transportation bond is included in this project.
According to the Project Manager, Parviz Mokhtari, the design and environmental clearance have been completed and one contract for all the work on El Camino Real from Redwood City to Highway 380 has been awarded by Caltrans.
The San Mateo County Smart Corridor Project enables the project stakeholders (like Caltrans and Peninsula cities) to implement traffic management strategies through the deployment of Intelligent Transportation System (ITS) elements along state routes and major local streets.
The ITS elements to be implemented for the Smart Corridor Project include the following equipment and components: Directional signs (trailblazers ), Fixed or pan-tilt-zoom (PTZ) closed-circuit television cameras (CCTV), Communications (conduit, fiber, copper, wireless, software, and associated equipment), Arterial changeable message signs (Arterial Dynamic Message Signs – ADMS), Vehicle detection systems, Center-to-center communications between San Mateo County Hub (SMCHub) and District 4 Traffic Management Center (D4TMC), and Power supply line and equipment.
The ITS also will include a fiber optic communication system that will connect to Caltrans' Transportation Management Center in Oakland and 10 San Mateo County cities; electronic message signs that guide motorists through detour routes during freeway incidents. Sensors providing information about the volume of traffic at specific locations will work in conjunction with closed-circuit television cameras allowing Caltrans and the10 cities along the Peninsula to look at the traffic flow and determine the most effective way to reroute motorists during major congestion.
"This is a positive thing, said Chip Taylor, the director of Public Works for Menlo Park. Each participating city will manage things like the traffic signal control boxes, etc. "We already maintain these, he said, yet when CalTrans connects to it, they will oversee incidents and emergencies," said Taylor. He reassured like Napier that the all the equipment used would only be for traffic management and safety. Traffic flow problems occur when motorists turn off onto side streets and residential roadways. "The back up in those types of situations can last for hours," he said.
While all this explanation with so many acronyms may seem a bit complicated, the everyday commuter might be happy to know that with this new system once fully in place, it will greatly improve the flow and safety of all traffic. One of the major benefits of the project is that it will link more than 250 state and local traffic signals - enabling the signal timing to be adjusted remotely to better manage the flow of traffic during incidents, eliminating the need to drive to the signal to make adjustments.
"Drivers will benefit from this innovative use of technology," said Napier, who serves as Executive Director of the City and County Association of Governments of San Mateo County. "When a traffic incident occurs, motorists will be provided with real-time information to help them choose whether to remain on the highway, choose a detour, or travel to the nearest public transit station, he said.
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