Track and Quotes

Show Shipment Information - Track and Trace PackageTrack and Trace
Get a Shipping Rate QuoteRate Quote

Technology May Help Solve Congestion for Trucking
Monday, 04 January 2010 00:00

A recent study by one of the world’s largest makers of Global Positioning System navigation devices has concluded that Seattle is the most traffic-clogged city in the United States.

But that study by the Dutch manufacturing firm TomTom followed another, published in March by the American Transportation Research Institute, that said Chicago has the worst congestion.

Federal researchers previously said Los Angeles was the queen of traffic mean, and many truckers say New York City is so bad, they won’t even go there.

So, where is the worst congestion? Science and technology may be closing in on the answer.

Thanks to GPS technology and data from electronic onboard recorders in trucks, researchers have tools that can prioritize the worst congestion, helping policymakers decide where to spend precious transportation dollars to alleviate growing congestion.

Until the GPS and EOBR revolution, information on congestion was anecdotal, said Larry Pursley, executive vice president of Washington Trucking Associations.

“We knew where the problems were, but we didn’t know how bad they were or what the delays were throughout the day,” he said.

The new data are so specific and can encompass so many variables that ATRI researchers plan to unveil a methodology at the annual Transportation Research Board conference this month in Washington to determine how much a particular traffic bottleneck costs the trucking industry each year.

With information gleaned from EOBRs in trucks running across the country, ATRI also is expanding the list of 30 bottlenecks it published in its March study to as many as 250, said Jeffrey Short, ATRI’s senior research associate on freight mobility.

Transportation officials “will be able to understand and quantify the severity of bottleneck locations,” Short said.

Meanwhile, WTA now can prove what are the worst trouble spots, tracking Seattle freight mobility in a study with the Washington State Department of Transportation and the University of Washington.

In the Seattle area, researchers have put GPS devices in trucks, producing a steady stream of digital data. Because money to fix road problems is limited, “we’ve got to be concerned with how we move freight and how do you identify those congestion points where you can invest some money and improve freight mobility,” Pursley said.

The ATRI and Washington state studies track only trucks, but the TomTom study relied on information from GPS devices used by both car and truck drivers, said spokesman Kevin Carter.

“What we get from millions of TomTom device users across the country is anonymous historical data about speed profiles of any given road in the country,” Carter said.

“So, what we can actually see is when not just one car slows down, but we also see that same pattern . . . repeated over and over again, sometimes thousands of times,” he said.

TomTom collected the data for its study between September 2007 and September 2009. The data are “remarkably granular,” Carter said, meaning more than a trillion readings were collected that specify time, location and speeds on highways and tertiary roads. George Billows, executive director of the Illinois Trucking Association, did not dispute Chicago’s second-place ranking when compared with the congestion in Seattle.

“Having been in Seattle several times, it’s horrific,” Billows said. “You’re better off to take a bike.”

But in all the congestion studies, Billows said, the same five or six cities show up, and that is of deep concern to the trucking industry.

How to address the problems is where policymakers are most likely to differ. One of the most productive solutions for Illinois truckers are enhanced truck routes, Billows said.

“In some cases, we have trucks driving five or six miles to make a delivery half a mile away because of the viaducts,” Billows said of those low structures.

David Vander Pol, co-owner of Oak Harbor Freight Lines Inc. in Auburn, Wash., said Seattle failed to expand traffic capacity.

“They haven’t added any general capacity lanes on the [Interstate] I-5 corridor in Seattle,” he said, “and there’s a lot more people on those roads and then, they ask themselves, ‘I wonder why we’re having this congestion.’ ”

But Pursley said that the freight mobility study in Seattle is yielding more specific information about causes of congestion.

“We found that, in many cases, it’s on- and offramps. Either the run-outs aren’t long enough, or the rise of the turn is too great and they’re backing traffic up onto the freeways, or there’s a stoplight at the end of an offramp that backs traffic up,” Pursley said.

Louis Campion, Maryland Motor Truck Association president, attributes worsening congestion to poor land planning for businesses such as big-box retailers.

“You commonly find these [businesses] recruited to the region, and they haven’t planned for the increased truck traffic,” Billows explained.

As local trucking officials look for local solutions, Steve Van Kirk, vice president for intermodal commercial management at Schneider National Inc., looks at a big picture.

Rail intermodal, Van Kirk said, “gives us the opportunity for a large number of the miles that would be taking place on a normal truckload movement to move it on the railroads and not have it on the highways.”

Billows took issue, though, with the notion that moving truck freight to rail would alleviate congestion in Chicago.

Thousands of extra containers ultimately destined for Wisconsin, Kansas City, St. Louis or Indianapolis may be unloaded from trains to trucks in Chicago, Billows said.

“It may be overall one of the cheapest ways to ship, but it congests Chicago,” he said.

Transport Topics, 1/4/2010