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Victorian RTA website streets ahead

Map of mayhem: Road closures and traffic warnings can be posted accurately on to the Victorian RTA’s website map directly from the field.

Intelligent Transport award goes to online real-time warning system for roads

General News logo1 Dec 2012

A WEBSITE that gives real-time information on road closures and traffic alerts has been recognised as the outstanding contribution to traffic management for 2012 at the annual awards night of Intelligent Transport Systems Australia.

Accessible by computer, smart phone or tablet computer, the website created by Victorian roads authority VicRoads gives drivers up-to-the-minute reports on traffic conditions, complete with maps showing exactly where the trouble is.

Launched in December 2011, the website is set for a major upgrade to Stage Two in March 2013, when a new information will be added.

Development of the website was started after the Black Saturday bushfires in 2009 when VicRoads realised it didn’t have a system for promptly notifying the community of road closures, said Kerilyn Wyatt, manager of communications and stakeholder relations for VicRoads.

“On Black Saturday, we didn’t really have a system,” she said after receiving the award.

“When I got back to work on the Monday after the worst of the fires, we were typing in the road closures manually.

“There were no maps available. It was just a list of closed roads.” And that information was disseminated by newspapers, radio stations and the static VicRoads website, where the list could be found.

Ms Wyatt said public expectations rose quickly and, by the time of the 2010-11 floods, “the landscape had changed”.

“People wanted the information right now, they wanted it on their phones, they wanted it in real time,” she said. “And they wanted maps.”

To speed up the delivery of information during the floods, Ms Wyatt’s office worked around the clock listing closed roads as the flood information came in.

Much of the data entry was done by Ms Wyatt in the dead of night while she sat on her bed.

More than 400 roads were closed during the floods, but the system still could not give the public maps showing them.

For people crossing large parts of the state, the road names were not that helpful, Ms Wyatt said.

The public had by then became familiar with Google Maps and they wanted to see a map with the closed roads, rather than a list of road names.

The big leap forward to providing interactive maps was made late last year when VicRoads added a geospatial referencing system to the back end of the website which allowed the VicRoads workers in the field to pin-point the closed road and make an interactive map available to people using a desktop, a smart phone or a tablet computer.

This also took the guesswork out of how to describe the road closure. Previously the workers would describe the affected part of the road using local landmarks like “the big tree” of the “white farm building with the haystack”.

Now they can enter the information themselves on the geospatial referencing system, which greatly improves accuracy. In addition, VicRoads policy now is to describe the closure by naming the nearest passable road at each end of the closure.

It was this use of this geographic information system that caught the attention of the ITS Australia judges.

“In pioneering the use of geographic information system technology, the information is displayed in the form of an interactive map showing the location of road closures and incidents, describing road conditions and advising on route options,” the judges said in their citation.

“The RC&TA website informs people about daily road use and is a valuable tool during extreme weather events and other emergencies, such as bush fires,” they said.

“Since its launch in December 2011, the website has managed periods of very high use, including the two weeks following the major 26 February rain event when more than 300,000 visited the website to learn about the 300-plus road closures across the state.”

Ms Wyatt said the site will be upgraded in March 2013 when VicRoads launches stage two, which will give a much more comprehensive service to drivers.

“In March we will be adding roadworks and major events which disrupt traffic as well as some freeway travel time and some congestion information,” she said.

“At the moment, the site holds all the unplanned disruptions like emergencies and floods. What it’s going to cover is all the planned events, too: the roadworks, the events, as well as congestion.”

Ms Wyatt said that, to have the benefit of the latest information, drivers should check the website before they drive and also listen to the radio as they drive.

The next big step forwards in the dissemination of VicRoads traffic information would come when digital audio band radio became established in new cars.

“With digital radio, we will be able to break in to the broadcast being received by cars heading towards a major disruption.

“There is technology out there that is smart enough to be able to pick up the direction a car is travelling in, which road it is on and then only broadcast to the cars on that piece of road.

“That’s intelligent transport systems. It’s amazing.”

Two other awards were made in the ITS presentations.

The Max Lay Lifetime Achievement Award went to John Lees, who has been involved in intelligent transport systems for more than 40 years.

Mr Lees retired recently as managing director of the Queensland government’s ITS technology developed Transmax Pty Ltd.

The young professional award went to Alexander Chapman, an ITS design engineer at GHD in Adelaide.

Mr Chapman has already helped design the ITS systems on three motorways in Queensland and one in South Australia and he is convinced the adoption of ITS will continue to grow.

The chairman of ITS Australia, Brian Negus, also announced encouragement awards to the other three finalists in the young professional category.

“Australia really is an innovative ITS industry world leader,” he said.

“We have many examples of first-to-market innovations, our industry exports its technology confidently and our people contribute to key international standards and deployment committees,” said Mr Negus, who is also the RACV’s general manager of public policy.

An indication of Australia’s status in the ITS world was the recent decision to hold the 2016 world ITS congress in Melbourne.

The congress will bring at least 8000 of the world’s leading ITS experts to Melbourne. More than 10,000 attended the 2012 congress in Vienna.

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