Connected Vehicle Pilot Project Inspires Coordination among Florida Public Agencies

Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) District 7 has agreed to provide video traffic detection devices to enable the operation of improved traffic signals as part of Tampa’s Connected Vehicle Pilot program.

Tampa-Hillsborough Expressway Authority (THEA) is currently in the design stage of a ground-breaking project to implement multiple “Connected Vehicle” applications in the Tampa Commercial Business District (CBD) to improve safety, mobility, and environmental impact of vehicle traffic.  The project, called the Connected Vehicle (CV) Pilot, is partly funded by the U.S. Department of Transportation, and partly by THEA.

The project involves installing radios and computers in over 1600 vehicles (including private cars, buses, and streetcars) and in over 40 fixed locations at downtown intersections to enable ultra-fast vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) and vehicle-to-infrastructure (V2I) communication.  The project will also equip over 500 area residents with cell-phone applications to alert equipped nearby vehicles when they are pedestrians walking across a street.

One of the advantages of communication between vehicles and the infrastructure (V2I) is that it can enable more efficient operation of traffic signals.  The signal controller can change the red and green phases of the traffic signal in real time to best serve the vehicles at the intersection or approaching it.  Periods when vehicles are waiting in a queue at a red light while a green light is showing to an empty road would be a thing of the past.  THEA plans to implement such a system along several streets in the Tampa CBD to reduce travel times and make traffic flow smoother and safer.

As THEA moved into the design phase, the project engineers delved into the details of signal optimization with the designers of the signal control process at the University of Arizona.  They learned that signal control optimization can reach its full potential only when over 90% of the vehicles approaching the intersection have known location and speeds.  The number of vehicles instrumented for V2I communication as part of the CV Pilot program would provide a far smaller percentage of vehicle coverage.  A method of obtaining information on all vehicles approaching the instrumented intersections was needed.

FDOT District 7 and HNTB (THEA’s General Engineering Consultant) came to the rescue, after considering several technologies, including loop detectors and microwave detectors, FDOT agreed to pay for the procurement and installation of over 40 video traffic detectors at 12 intersections along Florida Ave. and Nebraska Ave. as part of a Joint Partnering Agreement with THEA.  HNTB will provide the design to integrate them with the rest of the CV pilot operation under its existing GEC contract, at no cost to the CV Pilot program.  THEA will provide ten “Bluetooth” detectors to determine travel time between points on these streets and along Meridian Avenue.  These detection technologies will not identify or retain any information about individual drivers or vehicles.

The decision to install video detection along Florida and Nebraska Avenues was a win-win scenario since they will benefit not only the signal optimization goals for the CV Pilot project, but these roads are state roads that are part of the upcoming Managed Lanes Tampa Bay Express (TBX) project.  Therefore, the Joint Partnership between THEA and FDOT will benefit both agencies, as well as result in shorter and smoother travel through the Tampa CBD for all drivers.