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Reserving lanes to minimize congestion during needed road work

August 11, 2021 11:30 AM
By: Doug Tomlinson, P.E.

​As part of its mission to improve transportation statewide, PennDOT is moving closer to adopting a new system to minimize congestion while completing needed repairs to the road and bridge network.

Known as a Lane Reservation System, the concept began when PennDOT and the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission presented the idea to the State Transportation Innovation Council (STIC) in 2016. Since that initial discussion, interest in the idea grew to include agencies in other states through PennDOT's participation with the Smart Belt Coalition and then over time was reduced back to just PennDOT due to funding constraints resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic.

When complete, the Lane Reservation System will be similar to making an online reservation for your favorite restaurant. If you go to OpenTable looking for a 7 p.m. reservation at a popular restaurant on a Saturday night, you're not surprised when you find there are none available. Instead, you may be given other options like a reservation at 4:30 or 9 p.m. PennDOT's Lane Reservation System will perform in a similar fashion for making work zone reservations. If a work crew wants to reserve a lane on Interstate 76 near King of Prussia at 5 p.m. on a Thursday night, they are going to find that reservations are not available. However, they will be able to make a reservation to perform needed road work during off-peak hours as defined in the system.  

PennDOT will be using various data sources and tools like FREEVAL-PA to determine the most appropriate times to allow work zone reservations. FREEVAL-PA is an innovative analysis tool that will help PennDOT identify and deploy the most effective work zone configurations. This approach will help ensure the safety of the workers, reduce congestion on major roadways, and eliminate conflicts between other work zones in the area. This information can then be shared with others through a standard data feed and will help traffic management centers do their jobs better. 

The project will be split funded by PennDOT and a federal Advanced Transportation and Congestion Management Technologies Deployment (ATCMTD) grant, and will incorporate a number of preliminary documents and requirements developed in collaboration with the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission. The Lane Reservation System will be built on the platform PennDOT currently uses for command and control of intelligent transportation equipment and will offer users a number of ways to access the system such as PennDOT's Road Condition Reporting System for internal staff, as well as a website and mobile-friendly application for those outside of PennDOT's network.

The project is currently going through the final IT approval steps and is set to begin this September. Completion is expected by 2022.

The author, Doug Tomlinson, is PennDOT's Highway Safety and Traffic Operations Chief.

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