Center could help state take technological strides

April 20, 1998|By DON AINES

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - Cars that report accidents when their drivers cannot could be among the technologies developed for an advanced traffic monitoring and emergency response center proposed for Letterkenny Army Depot.

When U.S. Rep. Bud Shuster, R-Pa., last month announced the $10 million project in the $217 billion federal transportation bill, it was news to depot officials and the center's potential landlord, the Letterkenny Industrial Development Authority.

"It is not out of the blue. It has quite a bit of background, but no single entity approached Chairman Shuster's office," said Dr. Konstadinos Goulias, director of Penn State's Center for Intelligent Transportation Systems.

Goulias said Penn State did not lobby for the project, but "Our state is really lagging behind surrounding states in applying this advanced technology," he said.


In Chambersburg for a highway project groundbreaking last week, Shuster said the idea came from a former Pennsylvania secretary of transportation.

"Tom Larson suggested ... we should go down to Texas A&M and look at the very advanced system they have for providing intelligent vehicle management for the Houston metropolitan area ... We're just taking their idea and moving it up here," he said.

The 9th District congressman said the center could develop traffic management systems for use across the country.

"If we have to do it someplace, of course, I prefer it be done here in the 9th Congressional District and Letterkenny becomes an ideal spot," said Shuster, chairman of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.

Not only is it situated near Interstate 81 and the Pennsylvania Turnpike, but the Army is vacating much of the depot.

Goulias said existing technology "could cut down the amount of time it takes to clear up an accident by four times and congestion by 10 times." Using variable message signs, video monitoring and global positioning systems, "creative rerouting" can get traffic around accidents and bottlenecks.

Steve Barber, director of Safety and Operations for the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission, said three variable message signs and five highway advisory radio systems are in place near Philadelphia.

Later this year, 11 more radio systems, four variable message signs and two closed-circuit television cameras will be added along the turnpike, he said. Motorists will be able to monitor turnpike traffic from Philadelphia to Pittsburgh by tuning their car radios to 1640 AM.

The cameras will be mounted at two of the busiest interchanges in Philadelphia to monitor traffic and spot accidents, Barber said.

"We already have a central operations center based here in Harrisburg that's manned 24 hours a day, seven days a week," Barber said Thursday. He said the Letterkenny center, which would also do monitoring and emergency dispatching along I-81, would augment the turnpike's center.

Pennsylvania Rural Highway Trauma Project Program Manager Ed Crow said a center could save lives on secondary roads. He works at Penn State's Applied Research Laboratory, which does Naval research.

Technology for submarines and aircraft carriers can have transportation and medical applications, Crow said. The Penn State-Geisinger Medical System is also involved in the rural highway project, working on ways to better pinpoint accident locations and improve medical care at the scene.

Crow said "telemedicine" technology will "connect the paramedic or EMT with a doctor in a remote location." That will include video, computer and cellular links between ambulances and hospitals.

By 2002, Crow said the law will require enhanced 911 systems to locate emergency calls from cell phones. Taking that a step further, he said vehicles can be equipped to call 911, even if the driver is unconscious.

"Right now, all of this is a paragraph in a bill," Goulias said of the Letterkenny project. He said the center would likely be a collaboration between universities, PennDOT and the Turnpike Commission.

Shuster predicted passage of the highway bill in May, with work on the center starting in 1999.

The Herald-Mail Articles