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PennDOT’s Regional Traffic Management Center Keeps Motorists Moving

May 24, 2024 09:00 AM
By: Cassidy Snyder

​Have you ever wondered how the navigation app on your phone knows the best route to your destination? Or how it knows the estimated time of arrival? PennDOT's Regional Traffic Management Centers (RTMCs) work behind the scenes using traffic data to get motorists where they need to be, safely and on time.

An RTMC is a facility dedicated to monitoring traffic conditions on major roadways in Pennsylvania. The core focus of an RTMC is to maintain the flow of traffic and detect interruptions. PennDOT has four RTMCs located in Bridgeville, Clearfield, Harrisburg, and King of Prussia.

The RTMCs are staffed at all hours of the day by traffic management center operators, who use closed-circuit cameras (CCTVs), emergency services dispatch, and user-based GPS data to monitor traffic. The CCTVs are located along major roadways and limited-access highways. By using CCTVs, traffic control specialists can detect crashes, stops, or any other traffic interruption in real-time. If there is an incident, RTMC operators can alert motorists of the problem ahead of time through dynamic message signs (DMSs). The Harrisburg-based RTMC, which monitors the Harrisburg area and Northeast Pennsylvania, has 160 CCTVs and 78 DMSs.

The traffic data received through the RTMC is processed and used to provide information to navigation apps such as Waze, Apple Maps, and 511PA. In turn, the navigation apps use their own proprietary algorithms to process the provided data and suggest alternate routes to avoid congested areas or crashes.

“We enter the traffic data, and every few minutes our information goes out to the public sector, and the navigations systems reroute traffic," said District Traffic Engineer Chris Flad.

This traffic data is important because our highways are used for transporting people and goods around the Commonwealth and the nation. Delays in traffic could costs motorists money because of the gas being used to sit in traffic. These user delay costs are calculated by the RTMC to ensure that they can continue to make traffic move efficiently. 

The RTMC also gets traffic data from INRX, a location-based data and analytics company. The INRX data is derived from various sources such as cell phones, GPS, etc. This information can tell the RTMC generally how fast traffic is traveling and alert them when speeds deviate from historical data.

“As more data sources become available, we have more of an insight to traffic problems," said Assistant District Traffic Engineer Matt Clouser. “In the last few years there have been a lot of advancements and there is a lot of traffic data available. We just use it in a beneficial and effective way to continuously improve our operations."

Not only does the Harrisburg RTMC keep motorists moving by monitoring traffic, but they also have a freeway service patrol operating during the morning and evening rush hours. The freeway service patrol offers services such as towing broken down vehicles, fixing a flat tire, or even providing a gallon of gas. Additionally, they also have two district incident response teams that are available for high profile incidents. The district incident response teams collaborate on communication between the RTMC, Pennsylvania State Police, and the local PennDOT district.

RTMCs also play a large role in preparing for special events. The RTMC staff often works with other agencies to prepare for events where traffic may be impacted.

“We work with other agencies all the time," said Traffic Control Specialist Marcus LaManna. “We've worked with the Secret Service and State Police for dignitary visits, and we work with State Police during events like the Farm Show or the Great American Outdoor Show."

The RTMCs, in coordination with other agencies, help to ensure that all available roadways are used near the special event. This is especially important as there is likely a higher number of vehicles in that area than usual.

Most motorists tend to think about reaching their destination on time, but do not know about the team of dedicated professionals who work to make that happen. The RTMC staff works around the clock to make that motorist have safe and timely travels. The next time you see a message sign on the highway that reads “CONGESTION AHEAD," you can thank an RTMC operator for letting you know.

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