Columbia County's InSync Adaptive Traffic System For most workday commuters, a road that stretches out for miles with nothing but green lights is an idyllic dream. Thanks to the folks at Rhythm Engineering and Columbia County Traffic Engineering, it’s also becoming a reality. Traffic congestion is more than just a nuisance; it can be costly for a community in more ways than one. The cost of congestion in this nation equates to 4.8 billion hours of wasted time and nearly 2 billion extra gallons of fuel on average to the tune of a relative annual cost of $101 billion. Most importantly, more than 30,000 people die in traffic accidents in the United States each year – 40 percent of crashes and 20 percent of fatalities happen in intersections. Making intersections work better cannot only save commuters time, it can save money and lives. The InSync Adaptive Traffic Control System is an artificially intelligent, digital system that optimizes traffic signals to adapt automatically to traffic conditions in real time. The InSync system was first introduced by Rhythm Engineering in 2008. In 2010, Columbia County installed and began collecting data from InSync Signals at five intersections on the North Sector of Washington Road in the growing City of Evans, a neighboring city of Augusta, Georgia. By the following year, InSync signals were incorporated at an additional seven intersections in the South Sector, effectively creating a continuous network of 12 InSync intersections that comprised a 4.8-mile stretch of Washington Road. Today, the system is either active or under construction at 64 intersections in Columbia County. A somewhat unique aspect of this project is that it goes beyond the borders of one county, a rarity for traffic signal synchronization projects in Georgia. A number of traffic signals within the project are located in and are shared with neighboring Richmond County. In a cross-jurisdictional effort, the two counties maintain one another’s signals and communicate regularly about any potential issues. While they are unable to view the camera feed from their neighbor county’s cameras, their InSync traffic signals still “communicate” with one another to adjust flow, as needed. According to Columbia County Traffic Engineering Manager, Randy Prickett, the County integrated the InSync system as part of its overall traffic control initiative in order to relieve congestion, reduce travel times, discourage speeding and minimize fuel consumption. Prior to the introduction of InSync, Columbia County’s busiest thoroughfare of Washington Road experienced high volume on the side streets, heavy AM/PM peak commuter traffic and variable traffic patterns generated by many large businesses along the corridor. Instead of using pre-set timing cycles, traffic signals equipped with InSync continually “communicate” with one another and adapt to current traffic conditions. The system works by releasing groups of cars, which Prickett calls “tunnels,” every 120- 160 seconds. Columbia County also employs an upgraded InSync Fusion video detection camera system that includes a series of zone cameras at intersections that can be viewed in the traffic control center for a combination of automated and controlled monitoring, so any required tweaks from one time of the day to another can be made in real-time. The system integrates inductive loops, as well. Moreover, emergency vehicles in Columbia County are equipped with EMTRAC GPS-beacon systems so when they draw near to one of the InSync intersections, the signal automatically switches to green in order to get them to their destination as quickly as possible. If two emergency vehicles approach an intersection from different sides at the same time, this smart system gives the larger vehicle the right of way. “Columbia County has a luxury that many other places don’t have – our very own broadband system,” explained Prickett. “This makes it possible for us to set up our own IP addresses, so we don’t have to pay an outside provider for each one. A typical InSync-equipped intersection may comprise six to 10 IP addresses, so that benefit equates to significant cost savings.” While cost savings are an obvious benefit, the advantages of incorporating InSync intersections are far-reaching. In a study of the initial five intersections along Washington Road’s North Sector, it was found that crashes were reduced by 26 percent in the first year of operation, equating to 42 fewer crashes on this stretch of road alone. Using an average cost of $27,731 per crash, this provides an additional economic benefit of $1,164,702 per year, as well as a likely decrease in potential injuries and fatalities. More than two million vehicles drive through InSync intersections all across the nation each day, and those numbers are steadily climbing. Evans, Georgia is one of 100 cities in the United States that has already deployed or are scheduled to deploy the InSync Adaptive Traffic Control System.
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