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VicRoads to trial bridge warnings

Left: VicRoads director of road operations Dean Zabrieszach.

Melbourne truck drivers to get automated warnings that low bridges lie ahead

General News logo6 May 2014

VICROADS is planning to be at the forefront of intelligent transport systems by trialing infrastructure-to-vehicle communications during the ITS World Congress in Melbourne in 2016.

The trial will likely be conducted on one or several of three low bridges in inner Melbourne that are frequently struck by oversized trucks, according to VicRoads director of road operations Dean Zabrieszach.

And, while it may be deemed a trial, Mr Zabrieszach believes that as it will be installed at a known trouble spot, it will probably become a permanent part of the infrastructure and the start of a network of similar warnings.

“Just about on a weekly basis, the bridge at the corner of Spencer and Flinders Street (in the city), the bridge on Racecourse Road (Newmarket) or the one on Ferrars Street (South Melbourne), has a truck crash into it,” Mr Zabrieszach said after addressing an ITS Australia Business and Networking Event in Melbourne.

“There are signs all over the place saying it’s a 3.8 metre bridge, or 4 metres. But the number of times truckies just go crashing into them ...

“We have spoken to the trucking industry. There are apps out there that Nokia and Here have produced. Whether they take any notice of that, we don’t know.

“One of our thoughts is that the intersections that are signalised around there can be fitted out with a radio transmitter on the 5.9Gh frequency that transmits a signal to the vehicle approaching and, if it’s got a receiver, it’ ll get a message saying 3.8 metre bridge ahead.” The 5.9Gh frequency has been reserved around the world for use by intelligent transport systems for communications from vehicle to vehicle (V2V) and between vehicles and infrastructure (V2I).

He said many trucks already were fitted with the necessary technology.

Mr Zabrieszach said that, while that application would be a simple example of what V2I communications could do, it had the potential to save millions of dollars.

“In the CityLink tunnel, the Burnley Tunnel, oftentimes trucks go in there and rip the hell out of it. All the technology on the ceiling gets removed, causing millions of dollars of damage.

“So what we are trying to do is warn the drivers in advance with infrastructure to vehicle communication. These are very basic problems we can tackle right here and now.” Mr Zabrieszach is also vice-president of ITS Australia and is also chair of organising committee for the 2016 ITS World Congress.

The testing of V2I communications in 2016 would keep Victoria at the forefront of road management technology around the world.

He said Victoria had a proud history of innovation in road management technology, helping to get the most out of road infrastructure that costs billions of dollars to construct.

“We were the first country to go with fully free-flow multilane tollways, and we are proud of that,” he told the event in Melbourne.

He contrasted the Australian tolling system with those in other countries where they have toll plazas where the traffic has to slow down, or even stop and hand over cash.

“Another world first was the drive time system in Melbourne.” This is the series of signs on the freeways that tell the driver how long it will take to drive to particular points or junctions on the freeway in the current traffic conditions.

“Some of the other cities around the country have been a bit slow on the uptake, but cities around the world have seen what we were doing and have taken it on board.

“The Germans, the Japanese, and other countries now have drive time systems of sorts that we led the world in, and we are very proud of that.” Mr Zabrieszach said that, while the USA had been using ramp metering – controlling the flow of traffic down entry ramps onto freeways – for decades, Victoria was the first place that linked up all the ramps so they could be co-ordinated.

“When we went down that path, we said we wanted to have our ramp metering as a system. If conditions on the freeway are light enough then, cool, let it on.

“But if conditions are changing from point to point, don’t just allow unfettered access. Cut it back. Communicate with the ramps upstream and downstream to calculate the right amount to be let on.” He said a test done before the $1.39 billion upgrade of the M1 corridor (Monash Tollway, CityLink, Westgate Freeway) produced results so good that around $100 million of the cost was spent on fitting those roads with a range of traffic management systems.

“We got massive results in terms of improved travel time, improved safety, reduced congestion. That drove us to fit every ramp on the M1 corridor with co-ordinated ramp metering.” The pilot project on a 15km stretch of motorway with six ramps showed average peak traffic volumes increased by 5 per cent while travel speeds increased by 35 per cent. The increased travel speeds represented a time saving of 15 minutes over the 15kms at peak times.

In addition, the business case put to government before the $1.39 billion project started suggested that the number of crashes involving casualties would be reduced by 15 per cent.

The results of the pilot project translated into an astounding benefit/cost ratio of 24, meaning that for every $1 spent, the community would benefit by $24.

“The $100 million spent on ITS during the upgrade was slightly less than 10 per cent of the total. Normally, when you do new road projects, the ITS costs around 5 per cent, so it’s a small cost for a massive benefit.” As a result of the success, the same equipment is being installed during the $2.5 billion upgrade of Melbourne’s Western Ring Road.

Mr Zabrieszach acknowledged that people still complain about congestion on the M1 corridor, but he says they don’t know what they’re missing.

“People say the Monash Freeway is still congested, but what we are saying is, in the mid-2000s it was congested for three hours in every peak. Now it is congested for one and a half hours.

“Had we not done it, it might have gone up to 4 hours.”

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