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Traffic Control Boxes to Help Road Monitoring

the station would store non-critical data -- such as the traffic counts that authorities use to determine if a road needs resurfacing -- to be retrieved later.

Traffic detectors are being deployed in larger numbers to address the costs of traffic congestion, Coifman pointed out. He cited a report that estimated the net cost of urban congestion in the United States to be over $63 billion in 2003, almost double the cost of 10 years earlier. The average American also loses 47 hours to traffic delays every year. More than half of those costs -- both in time and money -- were found to be due to roadway incidents such as accidents.

Coifman hopes that his software can help traffic control centers identify incidents more efficiently, so that people can spend less time in traffic, and recoup some of those costs.

Columbus was a good place to develop the software. Ohio is the seventh-most-populated state in the United States, and nearly two million of its 11 million residents live in the Columbus metropolitan area. The population is growing, and so is the traffic.

Coifman and Mallika tested their software using loop detector data from one of the heaviest-traveled corridors in Columbus: the interchange between Interstates 70 and 71, which cross near the middle of downtown.

Given the signals captured by loop detectors during four known traffic incidents that occurred in 2005, the software accurately identified when -- and approximately where -- each incident occurred.

Whenever a detector noticed a dramatic decrease in the speed of cars or the number of cars that passed by, it communicated with the traffic management center, which then pinged the neighboring detector stations to perform a kind of triangulation to locate the incident that was affecting traffic.

The engineers found in all four test cases, the software didn't trigger a data signal to the control center until it had cor
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