Bluetooth to help tally travel times

Printer-friendly versionSend by email

Chicago Tribune (IL) - Monday, May 24, 2010
Author: Jon Hilkevitch, Tribune reporter

Whoever thought that talking on a cell phone while driving would be considered a public service?

But that will be the case in one respect starting within the next few weeks on the Eisenhower Expressway, where travel times have soared since a resurfacing project began this spring between Thorndale Avenue in the western suburbs and the Circle Interchange near downtown Chicago.

To generate travel-time information on the torn-up highway, the state has hired a Wisconsin company to monitor signals sent from motorists using Bluetooth-enabled personal electronic devices such as hands-free headsets for cell phones, wireless headphones and computer peripherals.

Each device has a unique identification marker that will be tracked anonymously at various points on the Eisenhower to determine travel times and pinpoint areas of congestion, the Illinois Department of Transportation said.

It's a temporary solution until new sensors are placed in fresh pavement on the Eisenhower later this year when the resurfacing project is completed, officials said.

IDOT has contracted with TrafficCast of Madison, Wis., to capture the Bluetooth signals. Installation of the Bluetooth Travel-time Origination And Destination, or Blue-TOAD, is scheduled to begin Wednesday, and the system will start operating in late May or early June, IDOT spokeswoman Marisa Kollias said.

The new method of tracking travel times is badly needed on the Ike because the accuracy of traffic reports has been reduced because of the loss of sensors during construction, Kollias said.

There are still some sensors in the untouched lanes of the Eisenhower between downtown and Cicero Avenue, and from Interstate Highway 294 to Church Street, in both directions, Kollias said. In addition, IDOT's traffic control center is estimating travel times from downtown to Wolf Road by bridging the data on either side of the missing loops, she said.

"But the reality is that there are still too many gaps west of Hillside and on the entire eastbound Eisenhower," she said.