I-24 to pilot state’s Smart Corridor Program

BY KATE COIL

The Tennessee Department of Transportation has begun part of a 12-year process to transform a 30-mile section of Interstate 24 between Nashville and Murfreesboro into the state’s first Smart Corridor.

Smart Corridors are segments of major roadways that feature specialized signage to alert motorists to motorists to upcoming accidents, weather events, and other obstacles. The major goal of Smart Corridors is to alleviate traffic congestion by offering motorists better information on upcoming road issues.

The I-24 Smart Corridor will be completed in several phases during the next 12 years with improvements including the installation of an intelligent transport system (ITS) and improvements to roadways and ramps.

Phillip B. “Brad” Freeze, director of the traffics operation division of the Tennessee Department of Transportation (TDOT), said Smart Corridors are one way transportation officials across the country are looking at using technology to make transit easier and more reliable.

“A Smart Corridor is us learning to operate a corridor more efficiently through partnerships and through the use of technology, both existing and future, emerging technology,” he said. “Smart Corridors are really targeted toward congestion as a result of non-reoccurring causes, which include instances like traffic crashes, weather events, and anything that is not planned. If you look at information from the Federal Highway Administration, 60 percent of the causes of congestion are the direct result of these non-concurrent incidents.”
Smart Corridors allow transportation officials to communicate more and with better information to motorists. This communication with motorists will provide real-time information on traffic conditions as well as allow the state better control over traffic situations.

“It helps reduce accidents, even the flow of traffic, reduce the buildup of congestion, and makes the system a little more reliable,” Freeze said. “It allows other strategies that allow dynamic speed control where we can adjust speed limits or advisory limit of speeds to slow down the flow of traffic. It sounds counterintuitive to slowdown the system to speed up traffic, but it actually works. We can let people know if lanes are closed ahead and control when people start to merge over into another lane.”

The first phase of the I-24 Smart Corridor Project involves installation of technology and signs to send messages to motorists is pending at an estimated $37 million, according to state officials.

Bids are expected to be taken in November on the initial work for the project, which runs from I-440 in Nashville to Murfreesboro affecting 11 interchanges, and is supposed to make the interstate and Murfreesboro Road work together to move traffic more efficiently.

The technology used by Smart Corridors is similar in display to the dynamic message boards already located throughout interstates in Tennessee as well as the technology used by TDOT’s SmartWay app, which gives mobile and desktop users current updates on traffic speeds, delays and construction zones.

The next phase would deal with about $22 million worth of interstate ramp improvements at Rutherford County interchanges. Then three more Rutherford County interchange ramps will be improved and several ramps in Davidson County will be reworked. Several ramps will be rebuilt or reconfigured, and some bridges will have to be replaced.
Some funding for the project will come from the IMPROVE Act passed in 2017 by the state Legislature, which included a three-year gas tax increase to fund a host of road and bridge improvement projects.

One of the goals of Smart Corridors are to adapt as transportation technology evolves as well. The emergence of “connected vehicles” with access to cellular communications, internet, wi-fi and other technologies may even allow for transportation departments to receive and disseminate information to motorists in the future.
“One of the things about Smart Corridors is planning for things like that happening in the future,” Freeze said. “Smart Corridors are about integrating corridor management, and are an all-encompassing concept. It is about all we can do to make the system work more efficiently.”
TDOT officials said the I-24 Smart Corridor project may also work as a pilot program for other Smart Corridors to be built across the state.