Traffic congestion and accidents are routine on the southernmost section of a more-than-2,000-mile American highway. This year, researchers from all three of Arizona’s public universities are looking at the why, the how, and the how can we help it.
There’s a section of Interstate 10 spanning from Long Beach, Calif. to Houston, Texas, called a “freight corridor,” that trucks use to transport 50 million tons of cargo per year. Roughly 8,500 trucks drive through the corridor a day—plus thousands of cars—and a team of researchers led by the University of Arizona is working to make each of those drives safer, and more efficient.
“Transportation is something that’s really important to our state, especially as we continue to grow. We need to be more efficient and safer on our roadways, and so we are trying to identify things to improve it,” said UA Professor of Systems and Industrial Engineering Larry Head. Head is one of the project’s three principal investigators and director of UA’s Transportation Research Institute.
ASU Professor of Geographical Sciences and Urban Planning Michael Kuby and Northern Arizona University Associate Professor of Civil Engineering Edward Smaglik serve alongside Head as co-principal investigators.
The yearlong transportation research project, which began on July 1 of this year, is funded by a $400,000 grant from the Arizona Board of Regents Regent Innovation Funds, or RIF, as well as $125,000 each from UA and ASU. The Arizona Department of Transportation is conducting a parallel research project, studying the entire length of the freight corridor.
The university researchers have formed seven groups to address the complexities of Arizona’s 392-mile stretch of Interstate 10, including a group to explore ways of maintaining a roadway that consistently bears so much weight.
One group is identifying trends in safety data. The group has found, for example, that lighting (or lack thereof), congestion, and day of the week are all variables that affect traffic accidents. Speed, said Head, has the greatest effect. One solution to this might be “speed harmonization,” or making the speed limit an ideal match for current road conditions, with speed limits changing depending on things like traffic, weather, and visibility.
Another group is meeting with members of the trucking industry to discuss ways for truckers to travel more safely and effectively. The safety data for trucks show that accidents are often caused by driver fatigue, poor roadway conditions, and low visibility. Better knowledge of the weather is one way to improve the outlook, explained Head.
“Truckers have a required amount of rest per day,” said Head. “If we know about an incoming dust storm, or ice, or snow, we can get that information to truckers beforehand so they can choose to do their resting during those times, when the weather is less safe.”
Said Head, “This is a great collaboration between UA, ASU, and NAU. It is allowing us to all get together and put our efforts toward making our highways safer, making them operate more smoothly, and helping the environment—and I think that’s something we all can benefit from.”