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TDOT SmartWay

SmartWay Frequently Asked Questions

  1. What is ITS?
  2. What is TDOT SmartWay?
  3. How does SmartWay benefit me?
  4. What are the components of SmartWay?
  5. How much does SmartWay cost?
  6. Why are the big message signs often blank?
  7. I drove past a blank message board and then got caught in a big traffic jam because of a crash. Why wasn't the message board working to tell me about the crash?
  8. How do TDOT SmartWay and the HELP trucks work together?
  9. Will the TDOT SmartWay signs be used for Amber Alert messages?
  10. Will the cameras on the highway be used to catch speeders?
  11. Why are certain cameras or message boards not working?
  12. How often do the camera images refresh

Q. What is ITS?
A. ITS stands for Intelligent Transportation Systems, a system of advanced communications technologies designed to improve transportation safety and mobility. Intelligent transportation systems (ITS) encompass a broad range of wireless and wire line communications-based information and electronics technologies. When integrated into the transportation system’s infrastructure, these technologies relieve congestion and improve safety.

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Q: What is TDOT SmartWay?
A. TDOT SmartWay is Tennessee’s intelligent transportation system. It is designed to reduce traffic congestion by reducing incident clearance time, increase safety by decreasing the number of secondary accidents, and, working alongside our incident management program(HELP), improving emergency response to traffic situations. TDOT SmartWay uses cameras to monitor the highways from Traffic Management Centers, sensors to gauge traffic flow, large electronic message boards to send urgent traffic notices to drivers along the highways and the Highway Advisory Radio system. Nashville, Knoxville, Memphis and Chattanooga have fully integrated SmartWay systems.

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Q. How does SmartWay benefit me?
A. The system offers many more benefits than just providing camera views on the website, although that is one element that is very popular with the public. In the first three months of operation of Nashville’s SmartWay system, the department experienced more than a half million hits on its cameras. Typically, the system experiences a surge of hits during the winter months when there is snow and ice on highways.

Other benefits include providing warning messages on dynamic message signs to drivers approaching a crash or disabled vehicle. These warnings allow traffic to divert to other routes while also reducing the potential for secondary crashes caused by drivers running into unanticipated backups.

Other benefits include:

  • Providing live video to local television stations that is used during their rush hour traffic reports
  • Website access to current construction and incident information.
  • Shorter crash response time by emergency response agencies including TDOT HELP trucks
  • Using the system to assist in AMBER ALERTS
  • Radio reports of current construction and incident information available on the highway advisory radio (HAR) system.
  • Use of the system to complement Homeland Security evacuation plans

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Q: What are the components of SmartWay?
TDOT SmartWay advanced information technologies take many forms:

  • Roadway Traffic Sensors to report traffic counts, speed and travel time.
  • Camera Video Surveillance to monitor congested freeways and provide improved incident management capabilities.
  • Dynamic Message Signs to provide traffic and construction information to motorists, as well as provide information on Amber Alerts.
  • HELP Freeway Service Patrols to reduce congestion by removing minor incidents in a timely fashion.
  • Transportation Management Centers (TMC) which serve as a focal point for traffic management operations and communications.
  • Incident Management to detect, verify and respond to incidents in an efficient manner and manage traffic conditions around the incident site.
  • Construction Information which is provided to advise motorists traveling through construction sites.
  • TDOT Smartway Information System (TSIS) is a system communicating data from TDOT SmartWay devices to a central location and distributing that transportation information to motorists and other interested parties before and while making trips. Information is distributed via TDOT’s Web site and through the media. TDOT also provides motorist information on Tennessee 511, a component of TDOT SmartWay.
  • Information on Weather-Related Road Conditions, This feature allows TDOT to show travelers where problems may exist on any state road due to weather conditions such as snow, ice and flooding. A simple click of the mouse will highlight any areas to be avoided due to hazardous road conditions.

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Q. How much does SmartWay cost?
A. The yearly cost to operate an urban system is about $1.3 million annually. In contrast to building a roadway, deployment of TDOT SmartWay costs about $500,000 per mile compared to $2.5 million per mile to build a single lane of new roadway.

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Q. Why are the big message signs often blank?
A. The display of repetitive information could result in drivers failing to read the signs even when important information is given. For this reason, messages are not displayed for recurring rush-hour congestion. The intent of the message boards is to provide important traffic information to highway travelers when unusual conditions exist on the freeway. Typically, messages are used to warn of abnormal delays due to incidents (i.e., crashes, disabled vehicles, or construction activities). During peak periods or rush hours, bottleneck locations and durations of congestion are predictable, and thus, expected by commuters.

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Q. I drove past a blank message board and then got caught in a big traffic jam because of a crash. Why wasn't the message board working to tell me about the crash?
A. Crashes can happen at any time. Unfortunately, if a crash happens after you pass a blank sign, you won’t know about it until you see the slow traffic.

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Q. How do TDOT SmartWay and the HELP trucks work together?
A. HELP is part of the SmartWay system, TDOT’s Intelligent Transportation System. They work hand-in-hand in the Transportation Management Center to keep the highways open. HELP dispatchers and SmartWay operators work together in verifying incidents, dispatching HELP trucks and notifying motorists, local police, and local media.

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Q. Will the TDOT SmartWay signs be used for Amber Alert messages?
A. The effectiveness of using freeway message boards in child abduction cases where the victim’s life is believed to be at stake has been proven. TDOT and the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation (TBI) have developed a formal Amber Alert procedure. When there is an Amber Alert, there will be messages notifying motorists of important information and direct motorists to call 1-800-TBI-KIDS for more detailed information.

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Q. Will the cameras on the highway be used to catch speeders?
A. No. SmartWay is not a law enforcement tool. Instead, it has been developed to provide quicker emergency response and provide traffic information to the public.

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Q. Why are certain cameras or message boards not working?
A. Routine maintenance must be performed on the cameras and signs, and they must be off during this process. There are also times that certain cameras or sign information may be unavailable due to respect for the privacy of those involved a traffic crash. Because these devices are monitored by operators at the TMC, we are quickly aware of when problems occur.

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Q. How often do the camera images refresh?
A. The camera images are refreshed approximately every one to five minutes. Through a partnership with Trafficland, Inc. the Knoxville cameras are refreshed every 2 seconds. TDOT expects a similar partnership to be developed statewide.

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