Victoria's managed motorways go global

The Department of Transport’s managed motorways approach to improve traffic flow is going global, with a USA trial starting last week, more than 14,000 kilometres away.

The Smart 25 Managed Motorways Pilot Project is a six-month ramp metering trial on the I-25 Motorway in Denver, Colorado, managed from Melbourne by a team of DoT experts. 

The I-25 Motorway, which connects Denver’s central business district and the Denver Tech Center to the south, has similar congestion and reliability issues previously experienced on Melbourne’s M1 Freeway. 

DoT’s Manager of Managed Motorways and Network Optimisation, Matthew Hall said the project involving DoT, the Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) and other partners had its origins in 2014 when Principal Engineer Network Optimisation John Gaffney presented to the Transportation Research Board (TRB) Annual Meeting in Washington D.C. about the success of coordinated ramp metering on the M1 corridor. The TRB event can draw up to 15,000 transport industry delegates from around the world.

“Key industry players in the USA were in attendance and saw the benefits of the approach over what had typically been deployed across various US jurisdictions,” Matthew said.

“(Engineering firm) WSP-USA approached us with a proposal to be involved in discussions around a potential pilot projects with state transport departments in the USA, with CDOT choosing to progress with a trial.”

Melbourne’s ramp metering system has been in full operation on its urban motorways since 2010 when the M1 Monash-CityLink-West Gate Upgrade was completed.

Ramp metering signals help maintain traffic stability and near-capacity traffic flows through the system based on contemporary traffic flow science to provide more stable and reliable travel that optimises traffic throughput and travel speeds along the motorway.

A well-managed motorway has safe and productive spacing between vehicles and if traffic is kept moving, there is more throughput per hour, helping avoid a congested motorway where vehicles travel slowly and bunch together.

Ramp metering helps improve road safety, due to safer management of merging traffic and more stable motorway travel with less stopping and starting. It also reduces travel times, queuing, and delays.

After ramp metering was introduced on the M1 Freeway, the number of vehicles getting through during peak increased by 20 per cent, travel speeds improved 20-30 per cent and crash rates dropped by 30 per cent.

Matthew said the live operations phase of the Denver trial started on 29 October 2021 and would end in April 2022, followed by final evaluation and reporting. 

“In the lead up to the live portion of the trial, we have been involved in assisting with the set-up of the system, data analysis and understanding the preliminary base conditions,” he said.

“Live operations will involve observing traffic in real-time via CCTV cameras and adjusting the operational parameters of the ramp metering system, which is predominantly automated, and responding to traffic measures in real time. 

“Monitoring and analysis of traffic conditions and recorded data will enable us to fine tune and improve operations throughout the live trial period.”

Matthew said the trial would help CDOT determine whether the system can demonstrate desired benefits that could be delivered across its broader network of motorways and ramp metering operations.

“It’s hoped the expected success of the pilot will enable DoT to continue sharing expertise to help CDOT and other transport departments improve the operations of their motorway networks for the benefit of their economies and communities,” he said.