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 Faster And Safer Travel Through Routing and Advanced Controls

Faster And Safer Travel Through Routing and Advanced Controls

Brought to you by the Road Commission for Oakland County

FAST TRAC

FAST-TRAC: A new solution to an old problem

Oakland County, Michigan, continues to be one of the fastest growing counties in the United States. Unfortunately, there simply isn't enough money available to build new roads or widen existing roads fast enough to keep up with the growth. As a result, many roads in Oakland County are congested. Faced with insufficient funds to adequately improve our roads, the Road Commission for Oakland County (RCOC) turned to technology, in the form of the Faster And Safer Travel Through Routing and Advanced Controls (FAST-TRAC) program.

FAST-TRAC is a system that makes better use of existing roadways by employing traffic-management technologies to respond, in real time, to actual traffic flow, thus minimizing traffic tie-ups and improving safety on our roads.

It's important to note, though, that while FAST-TRAC can help to optimize traffic flow on existing roads, it cannot completely eliminate congestion. There is simply more traffic on many Oakland County roads than the roads can handle.

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How Does FAST-TRAC work?

Traffic patterns change constantly in many Oakland County intersections. Intersections that are packed at 4:30 p.m. are empty in the middle of the night. At some intersections, traffic is extremely heavy travelling southbound during the morning rush hour, light during the mid-day, and then heavy north-bound during the evening rush hour. In the past, traffic signals couldn't respond to these real-time traffic conditions.

That's where FAST-TRAC is different. Here's how it works:

  • Traffic-detection devices, either employing video or buried in the pavement at FAST-TRAC-equipped intersections detect vehicles approaching and continuously monitor traffic flow.
  • The devices transmit the traffic-flow information to a computer which adjusts the traffic signal timing to match the traffic flow. For example, the green cycle time in one direction can be extended, while the red cycle time is shortened.
  • Network-wide traffic flow is monitored, and the system balances traffic flow along major corridors. For example, if there's an accident at one intersection, the regional computer will adjust traffic signals area-wide to accommodate the traffic backups caused by the accident.
  • Intersections are monitored at RCOC's state-of-the-art Traffic Operations Center (TOC). Traffic engineers can monitor specific intersections or the entire county

Traffic counts at intersections can also be collected through FAST-TRAC. 

The system also includes diagnostic capabilities. With FAST-TRAC, many problems can be repaired, via computer, from the RCOC TOC. Crews are still needed on-site to address hardware failures.

The system also creates a database of traffic information, such as traffic counts, which, in some cases relieves local units of government from the need to do traffic counts and other studies.

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FAST-TRACing into the future

RCOC has been on the cutting edge of this technology, known as intelligent transportation systems (ITS), since the early 1990s. In fact, RCOC was one of the first federally funded test sites for this technology in the United States. The expertise RCOC gained in developing its FAST-TRAC system is being used to help other communities around the country -- and around the world -- to develop "smart roads."

RCOC is still on the cutting edge of technology, and we continues to develop our system. We receive and share information (data and live video) about traffic conditions with the Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT).

Eventually, the number of Oakland County intersections equipped with FAST-TRAC technology will grow to more than 1,100.

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FAST-TRAC's history

When RCOC officials concluded in the mid-1980s that it was unlikely that there would ever be enough money to make all the road improvements (widening roads, constructing new roads, paving gravel roads, etc.) necessary to meet the traffic needs of Oakland County, they began searching for alternatives to traditional road construction projects. Their search led them to Sydney, Australia.

Faced with a similar situation of too much traffic, too few roads, the Roads and Maritime Services of New South Wales, Australia, in the 1970s developed the Sydney Coordinated Adaptive Traffic System (SCATS) to increase the efficiency of Sydney's road network. SCATS uses sensors buried in the intersection pavement or video to collect traffic flow information and control traffic signals to optimize traffic flow.

RCOC officials were impressed with SCATS' performance. In 1991, RCOC embarked on a major effort to implement an ITS system in Oakland County. The result is the FAST-TRAC system.

Since the system's implementation, studies by such respected institutions as Michigan State University and Oakland University have documented improvements in traffic flow and safety on Oakland County roads where the FAST-TRAC system is installed.

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Where is FAST-TRAC?

The list of Oakland County communities in which FAST-TRAC has been installed is growing. The list currently includes:

  • Auburn Hills
  • Commerce Township
  • Farmington
  • Farmington Hills
  • Hazel Park
  • Independence Township
  • Lyon Township
  • Madison Heights
  • Milford
  • Novi
  • Orchard Lake Village
  • Orion Township
  • Oxford Township 
  • Pontiac
  • Rochester Hills
  • Southfield
  • South Lyon
  • Troy
  • Walled Lake
  • West Bloomfield
  • Wixom

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Note: FAST-TRAC is installed on major corridors and selected intersections in these communities; not at all intersections.

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