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New Rules Give Drivers Traffic Alerts

Drivers are getting more real-time warnings about traffic congestion as states roll out new or expanded systems over the next four years.

New federal rules that could take effect as early as February will give states two years to make such information available online or by phone for interstates and four years for major non-interstate roads in cities, according to the Government Accountability Office.

Most states have some sort of electronic traffic-monitoring now, says Jim Wright, who keeps up with such systems for the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials.

Some states are broadening existing systems while others are launching new ones:

- In Nashville, a multimillion-dollar expansion of the area's traffic-monitoring system is scheduled to be completed by fall 2010. Tennessee began the project eight years ago to double the number of overhead message boards and traffic cameras that warn motorists of interstate troubles, says Ali Farhangi, a regional traffic engineer with the Tennessee Department of Transportation who is overseeing the project.

- Florida's highway department is filling in gaps in electronic traffic-monitoring systems in Jacksonville, Tampa and St. Petersburg, says Gene Glotzbach, director of the intelligent transportation system. About 60% of the state's interstates should be covered by electronic monitors within five years, Glotzbach says. The state is studying how to collect and disseminate information on the remaining 40%, which are primarily rural highways, he says.

- In June, the Interstate 95 Corridor Coalition launched a website (i95coalition.org) showing real-time traffic conditions along the interstate from North Carolina to New Jersey.

- In the Upper Midwest, a similar alliance of states, called the North/West Passage Coalition, is providing traffic information online (i90i94travelinfo.com) and by phone (dial 511) to interstate travelers, says Doug Dembowski, who supervises Wisconsin's traffic operations center.

Gregg Laskowski, spokesman for AAA Auto Club South, says traffic-warning systems can prevent drivers' frustration.

"That can lead to things like road rage," he says.

William Morehead, a truck driver from Mount Juliet, Tenn., who says he is on the interstate every day is looking forward to more overhead traffic alerts.

"They're really helpful," Morehead says. "It's good to know when a certain lane is shut down or when I need to avoid a certain route."

Commuter Darren Bonee, who drives from Murfreesboro, Tenn., to Nashville every day, is skeptical.

"Is it the best place to spend the money?" he asks. "It's a great thing to have, but it's not going to alleviate the traffic flow."

"If I'm not in (traffic) right then, I don't care," Bonee says. "It's kind of a right-now problem."

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