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Ahead of schedule: Travel estimation saving drivers' time

8/17/2020 McCall Macomber

Each American spends nearly 100 hours, or $1,400 a year, on traffic congestion, according to 2019 data from INRIX. For Chicagoans, these numbers are even higher: 145 hours, or $2,146 a year.

To combat congestion, Illinois Center for Transportation and Illinois Department of Transportation investigated travel times in Chicago in their joint project, “R27-177: Dynamic Travel Time Estimation for Northeast Illinois Expressways.”

<span style="font-size: 0.8em;">An image of the Dan Ryan Expressway in Chicago, Ill. Chicago ranks among the most-congested cities in the U.S due to its recent economic growth and proximity to Lake Michigan.</span>
An image of the Dan Ryan Expressway in Chicago, Ill. Chicago ranks among the most-congested cities in the U.S due to its recent economic growth and proximity to Lake Michigan.

Abolfazl Mohammadian, University of Illinois at Chicago’s civil and materials engineering professor, and Kevin Price, IDOT’s intelligent transportation systems operations engineer, lead the effort.

The two sought new models to estimate and predict travel times using dynamic prediction — an approach in which travel time is calculated by adding the predicted travel time of highway sections.

To create the models, they turned to various databases that include factors such as weather conditions, work zones and special events that may affect travel time.

“This project takes a new approach of combining more data sets (weather conditions, lane-blocking incidents, historical traffic conditions, etc.) and attempts to project forward with travel time estimates,” Price said.

The new models can predict travel times up to 60 minutes ahead for recurring and non-recurring congestion, such as work zones and sporting events.

Researchers found that traffic-related variables, such as roadway occupancy, weather condition and roadway incidents, had the greatest impact on short-term travel time prediction.

As for the benefit to the public?

“Travelers and users of the system can use this information to make better travel decisions in terms of their route choice, mode choice and departure time,” Mohammadian said.

“Having access to accurate travel time will also enable traffic operators and transportation agencies to better manage and control traffic in order to reduce congestion as well as increase efficiency and safety of traffic in highway networks,” he added.