- The Washington Times - Monday, September 14, 2009

OCEAN CITY (AP) | A University of Maryland engineering professor’s real-time, online traffic-monitoring system of Route 50 from the Chesapeake Bay Bridge to Ocean City can help authorities during hurricane evacuations - and vacationers on the road.

Civil engineer Gang-Len Chang received $1.23 million from the Maryland State Highway Administration and the Federal Highway Administration to design and install 40 sensors that enable his system to measure how many cars are on the road and how fast they’re going.

If the region had to be evacuated to Salisbury because of a hurricane, the system could be used to efficiently move 500,000 people along Routes 50, 54 and 90 in 10 hours by reversing traffic patterns and adjusting signals, said Alvin Marquess, deputy operations director of the Maryland State Highway Administration.

Mr. Marquess said the system is helpful with seeing how efficiently drivers move around on the Eastern Shore.

“The importance is the ability to get real-time data,” said Joe Theobald, Ocean City’s director of emergency management.

“It’s part of the overall process, and it lets the public look at real-time data coming out of Ocean City. For the everyday citizen, it’s something they might like to view,” he said. “When it comes to evacuations, it’s something we factor into our decisions.”

On Route 50, eastbound cars averaged 64 mph on the Friday before Labor Day at noon. But, when those same cars passed through the Route 50-Route 301 split, Mr. Chang’s sensors recorded their average speed at only 29 mph.

That helps travelers to know - instantly, if they’re at a computer or have a handheld phone or device with Web access - where the traffic is and how long it will take them to get to the beach.

For emergency authorities, that same real-time data - displayed at https://oceancity.umd.edu - could give an accurate picture during hurricane evacuations from Ocean City and the lower Eastern Shore.

“At any given time, we have a pretty good idea of how many vehicles are on the island itself, to give us a good idea of the traffic numbers,” Mr. Marquess said. “That’s how it differs from other planning methods that just give you a static number. We’re using active traffic volumes [with Mr. Chang’s system].

Mr. Chang used algorithms to optimize signal controls in the region so travel times can be better predicted using the actual traffic conditions and outbound traffic flow.

“What’s unique about this, as we’re monitoring the traffic and the delays through the system, if something were to happen, we can automatically insert that into the model and it calculates the changes,” Mr. Marquess said. “That’s how it’s different from the models before. It didn’t take into account the what-ifs: What if the Bay Bridge were closed? When would we have to send more traffic to Delaware?”

In 2005, Mr. Chang began his work with 10 self-contained, solar-powered detectors, but added more every year as the project became successful. The state recently bought 40 used sensors for $400,000 after renting the monitors.

“For emergency managers, if there were a storm approaching, how much time they would need to clear folks in harm’s way to the western shore, or tourists back to their homes? If they do have to evacuate, they turn to the transportation folks, how to move people the best we can,” Mr. Marquess said.

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