WAMU 88.5 : News

Smooth Sailing So Far For Transurban Operations Center

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Transurban employees monitor the traffic on the 495 Express Lanes around the clock.
Martin Di Caro
Transurban employees monitor the traffic on the 495 Express Lanes around the clock.

Things were very quiet inside the new 495 Express Lanes operations center — and that's exactly how the company operating the new highway wants it to be.

Since opening in late November, the operations center has been manned around the clock, with at least two controlroom operators watching dozens of cameras at headquarters, based near the southern tip of the new, 14-mile corridor. It's busy, but you wouldn't know it by putting your ear to the door — it's as quiet as a library.

"Seventy-six electronic signs, 45 miles of cable, more than 80 censors, cameras every third of a mile, this is where it all comes together," says Pierce Coffee, a spokesman for Transurban, which operates the toll road.

Unlike a regular highway, the 495 Express Lanes have to be watched and managed all day long. he workers hardly utter a sound, unless something goes wrong on the road. Shifts are spent looking for any sign of trouble on the 14-mile, electronically-tolled Beltway express lanes, running north and south between the Dulles Toll Road and the 95 interchange.

"We have dynamic signs out there," Coffee says. "In case of an incident or in case of a price change, these are the folks who would actually input a manual message onto those signs and be able to communicate to you on the road."

The censors constantly read traffic volume and highway speed.  That determines if the toll charge should be changed, no more than once every 15 minutes. During the highway's six-week run, tolls have yet to exceed $4, meaning traffic has been fairly light in the express new lanes. 

Another reason why the highway is managed 24/7 is to alert motorists of accidents by changing the messages on the dozens of electronic signs along the 14 mile corridor. So far Transurban's team hasn't had to respond to any major incidents that would require diverting all traffic from the express to regular purpose lanes, or vice versa.

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