PHOENIX - Clearing freeway crashes more quickly to reduce congestion and save lives is the goal of a collaborative effort among the Arizona Department of Transportation (ADOT), Department of Public Safety (DPS), Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), and the Maricopa Association of Governments (MAG). The agencies will formally launched the program and discussed its advantages during a joint news conference on Wednesday, Oct. 29.
In August, the MAG Regional Council voted to partner with ADOT in funding a three-year pilot program to co-locate DPS officers at the ADOT Traffic Operations Center (TOC). The TOC utilizes information from a variety of sources to monitor traffic flow, including more than 200 traffic cameras along the freeway system. Operators can monitor and display video from up to 160 cameras at once. Under the initial co-location program an officer would be on duty during high peak traffic periods, joining the ADOT operators who provide 24/7 coverage in the TOC.
“Using the cameras available in the TOC, the on-duty DPS officer can monitor and quickly locate or verify traffic incidents and determine the specific resources needed,” said ADOT Director John Halikowski. “Early notification and precise resource allocation will help clear crash scenes more quickly, potentially saving lives and reducing the time motorists are stuck in traffic.”
DPS Director Robert Halliday said clearing scenes sooner reduces the risk of secondary crashes. “Secondary collisions account for about six percent of crashes on state highways, and one first responder is injured or killed almost monthly on Arizona roadways,” he says. “An officer housed in the TOC has the authority to immediately notify the DPS dispatch center and mobilize field officers, fire/ambulances, the appropriate class of tow truck, etc., without waiting for ADOT operators to relay the information to DPS.”
The costs of the three-year pilot project will be equally shared by MAG and ADOT, including $450,000 for the first year and $425,000 for each subsequent year. The program will pay for three DPS officers and a DPS supervisor.
MAG Chair Michael LeVault says a MAG analysis found that having a DPS officer in the TOC could result in a 33 percent reduction in overall traffic delay caused by major crashes.
“The MAG analysis found that if you applied that reduction to a 36-mile segment of Interstate 10 over a one-year time period, it would equate to a savings of $6.6 million in lost productivity,” he said. “The Regional Council further ensured accountability in the process by calling for annual performance reports and by agreeing to jointly fund the first three years as a pilot project.”
Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton, who serves on the MAG Transportation Policy Committee, championed the project. “This kind of state and regional partnership also benefits local communities like Phoenix,” he said. “For example, when freeways are closed, local jurisdictions can be alerted, which will help them manage rerouted traffic. The new program is a great example of finding ways to work together to save time, effort and perhaps even lives.”
FHWA Division Administrator Karla Petty says co-locating public safety officers in traffic centers has been identified as a best practice across the country. “This project is a great example of how regional and state agencies saw a problem in traffic delays and safety on the freeway system and came up with a short term, implementable plan for using technology and personnel, instead of pavement, to address the issue. We are always looking at ways to improve the system, including ways to increase the efficiency of freight traffic and enhance safety,” she said.