The province of Alberta is testing out an Internet-based program that could make planning road trips easier for travellers using the main highway that connects the province’s two major cities.

As part of an eight-month, $100,000 pilot project, the province launched a new Web site

www.travelinfotest.ab.ca that uses an application called the Condition Acquisition and Reporting System (CARS) to provide information on Highway 2 between Edmonton and Calgary and major roads within each city.

Developed by Portland, Ore.-based Castle Rock Consultants, CARS is a software tool that allows users to manage and disseminate roadway event information from a central database. This includes information on road closures, delays, incidents, construction zones and real-time information on road conditions, for example.

Heading the project, which is backed by Transportation Canada, Alberta Infrastructure and Transportation, the cities of Calgary and Edmonton, and the Alberta Motor Association, is Ottawa-based engineering firm Morrison Hershfield Ltd.

Calgary’s explosive population growth in the last decade, coupled with Highway 2’s high traffic volumes are two contributing factors behind this project.

The Deerfoot Trail, the major north-south transportation route through the City of Calgary and part of the North/South Trade Corridor, is the busiest stretch of road in Alberta, said Alberta Infrastructure and Transportation spokesperson Trent Bancarz.

“In some parts we have traffic of 150,000 vehicles a day. For somebody from Toronto that doesn’t sound like much, but it’s certainly significant here,” said Bancarz, adding that Calgary’s population has gone up about 20 per cent in last decade with 900,000 residents in the city proper.

While CARS has already been used in 10 U.S. states, Morrison Hershfield project manager Bassam Hamwi said specific issues such as coordinating all of the agencies’ protocols and information systems can arise when configuring the program for different areas.

“You have to resolve all those differences and use their graphic information systems (GIS), integrate the two together, and make it available in a form that is for use by those agencies that are feeding the information into the system as well as making it available to the public,” said Hamwi.

The Web site has two interfaces, Hamwi added. One is an Intranet site for the different agencies that provide the information and the other is for the public.

Alberta Infrastructure and Transportation provided $30,000, while the cities of Edmonton and Calgary provided $10,000 each. Transport Canada provided the remaining funds through a contribution agreement as part of the Strategic Highway Infrastructure Program. The project is one of 25 across the country that is funded by Transport Canada’s Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS) plan, which is designed to improve the safety, efficiency and security of the country’s transportation system.

Likewise, Bancarz said the Web site will lead to improved safety and security.

“If (people) see there’s a significant delay or a construction site, they may take an alternative route. The benefit to that is it cuts down on motorist frustration. When motorists get frustrated, they do tend to take more chances,” said Bancarz. “The other advantage is if we can keep traffic away from incident sites, it’s easier for construction workers and emergency responders to do their jobs when there’s less congestion.”

Ekke Kok, manager of transportation data for the city of Calgary, says the project also fits with Transport Canada’s ITS plan to improve efficiency.

“We’re trying to maximize the useage of the transportation system with the money that we’ve got,” said Kok. “We can’t go building interchanges hither and beyond. The travel information site allows people to make decisions about their travel and perhaps utilize the system more efficiently.

If travelers see there’s consistently travel congestion on one of roads, for example, they can either shift travel time to point when that’s not going to be a problem or shift their route to less congested one, added Kok.

“It allows us to make our transportation system more efficient as well as providing information to the traveling public.”

Since the Web site went live in the second week of January, Bancarz said 43 people have sent their feedback, most of which was positive.

There were a few suggestions surrounding the timeliness of information posted on the site, he added. Those responses will eventually be used to gauge the success or failure of the project.

If all goes well, the system will expand to include more roads, covering more highways and streets within the two cities. Bancarz and Hamwi said it could also be integrated with other areas such as the province’s Road Weather Information System, which it will start installing this spring. Alberta plans to eventually have 75 of these small weather stations which can measure pavement conditions and air temperature and humidity, said Bancarz.

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