Study to outline more ways to keep traffic moving

Consultant to look at safety, reliability of Interstates 81 and 70

By Mike Lewis

By Mike Lewis
Entering northbound Interstate 81 from Martinsburg, W.Va.

A yearlong study will look at some innovative ways to keep the trucks — and other traffic — rolling on area interstates.

“We’re excited to get started” with the study, said Matt Mullenax, executive director of the Hagerstown/Eastern Panhandle Metropolitan Planning Organization.

The consulting firm of Michael Baker International will develop the “I-81 and I-70 Transportation Systems Management and Operations Plan.” HEPMPO’s Interstate Council agreed to the firm’s proposed scope of work and $110,997 fee during a recent meeting in Hagerstown, Md.

The study will develop strategies to improve safety and traffic reliability on interstates in Washington County, Md., and Berkeley County, W.Va. It also will look at parallel routes that are affected by what the scope of work calls “event diversions.”

In addition to the human tragedies of fatalities and injuries, wrecks and other problems on the interstates can cost businesses big dollars in terms of late deliveries and lost hours as employees and freight are stuck in traffic.

“We just kind of get used to it, in a way,” Mullenax said.

Adding more lanes or otherwise “increasing capacity” to solve the problem is costly and takes time, Mullenax said.

Given the fiscal realities, highway officials are looking at management and operations plans to help ease congestion and make the nation’s highways safer and more reliable in terms of travel time.

Urban areas often have more management options than the Crossroads Business Journal region, Mullenax said. In some urban areas, for example, traffic can use road shoulders during congested times, or some lanes can be designated to through traffic during rush hours.

But there are ways to improve traffic management even in rural areas, he said.

Mullenax anticipates that the Michael Baker International study will look at a range of strategies to improve the performance of area roadways. Some of those could range from additional cameras, which would help officials better pinpoint crashes and other issues, to real-time message boards, which would warn motorists of problems they could face in a few miles and suggest better ways of coping with them.

Another idea could include smart truck parking.

Mullenax said smart truck parking systems allow tractor-trailer drivers to find and reserve designated places where they can take breaks so they can stay in compliance with federal law. The systems also can help prevent drivers from stopping in other places, such as interchange ramps, when they have run out of options and drive-time hours.

The scope of work proposed by Michael Baker and Associates mentions some potential strategies, such as efficiently managing traffic incidents (best practices to clean up wrecks as quickly as possible), coordinating traffic signals and effectively dealing with weather hazards.

“You’re thinking about the entire operation of a highway,” Mullenax said.

The study will kick off in July. A baseline assessment will identify what the document calls “applicable performance metrics,” such as travel time reliability, crash frequency and severity, and the causes and durations of road closures.

The study also will reach out to businesses as well as regional, county and local agencies to assess their needs and recommendations.

There also will be opportunity for public comment and input.

A draft report is due in April, 2020 according to the scope of work document. A final report is due in June 2020.