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Electronic signs to give drivers a head’s-up

UDOT messages will provide advisories on commute times

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You're mired in traffic congestion with no idea how long it will take you to get to work, home, your kid's school — or wherever you need to be ASAP.

What will you do?

The Utah Department of Transportation hopes you will relax, remain calm and be a courteous driver.

BUT UDOT isn't just asking nicely. Starting Monday, the department is giving commuters a tool to help lower their blood pressure and keep them sane while navigating rush-hour traffic on I-15.

UDOT will use the electronic message signs along I-15 to post expected travel times — during the morning and evening commutes — to and from Sandy and downtown Salt Lake City.

The six-month pilot program could become a permanent feature of UDOT's CommuterLink network, depending on its effectiveness and public response. And it could be extended to I-80 in Salt Lake and Summit counties, I-215 in Salt Lake County, and on I-15 in Davis and Utah counties.

"This solves a couple of things, really," said UDOT spokesman Brent Wilhite. "One is that it gives you a bit of peace of mind: 'OK, I know that my commute is going to be 15 minutes, or 16 or 17 minutes, to get downtown. That's OK, I'm going to make it into work on time. I don't have to try to jockey the lanes, I don't have to speed, I don't have to get ahead of everybody else.'

"It's peace of mind, but it also provides information to make your commute better."

Beginning at 6 a.m. Monday, four electronic message signs in each direction along I-15 between Sandy and Salt Lake City will show estimated travel times. Each sign will list two destinations — an exit nearby, and an exit (like 600 South in downtown Salt Lake City) representing the end of a typical driver's commute.

UDOT will continue to use the signs to alert motorists of major accidents or other problems when necessary. But when the signs aren't needed for other purposes, they will show the estimated travel times — or alternate between traffic alerts and travel times.

Employees at UDOT's Traffic Operations Center will take the information provided by speed sensors imbedded at half-mile increments in the freeway and use a mathematical algorithm to determine how long it will take a motorist to travel a certain distance at existing speeds.

Motorists can comment on the signs' effectiveness by going to www.commuterlink.utah.gov and taking a survey. It will ask them, among other things, whether the estimated times on the signs were close to being accurate.

In addition to the travel time estimates, under extreme congestion or when crashes occur, the signs may also suggest alternate routes.

But most of all, Wilhite said, UDOT hopes the signs will prompt motorists to say to themselves, "I can wait this out. It's just a few songs on the radio."

And, providing it's a good station, the music should sound a lot better than a police siren.

E-mail: zman@desnews.com