GIS, Geoanalytics and Crowdsourcing Help the Pennsylvania Turnpike Catch It Early

The Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission (PTC) wanted to leverage available information to reduce delays associated with accidents and other incidents. A project was initiated with the mantra of “Catch it Early” to develop a Geographic Information System (GIS) web application that assists duty officers in responding proactively to traffic flow and travel times across their footprint, which spans more than 500 miles in length. KCI worked with the PTC’s GeoAnalytics team and their Traffic, Engineering and Operations (TEO) department to develop a suite of tools to increase the visual awareness of traffic operations. The final deliverable, entitled CAAR for Catch it Early, Act, Analyze and Review, has dramatically reduced incident response time while improving awareness of the total network system.

PTC CAAR Program
In 2017, nearly 2,500 crashes were recorded along the turnpike, not including other traffic-related incidents. Image courtesy of Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission.

The goal of the program was to integrate data from various sources into one viewable application to provide the TEO with an efficient tool to quickly detect and respond to safety and traffic flow situations, and in turn improve toll customers’ overall experience while traveling the Pennsylvania Turnpike.

CAAR Infographic

The project is leading the way in the interconnectivity of technology, social media, AI and the Internet of Things (IoT). The interactive GIS application displays operation layers and utilizes real-time data from Waze, a GPS-based crowdsourced traffic app, and INRIX, a mobility data collection and analysis tool, to monitor the roadway. In addition, locations of critical incident response assets, such as access gates and removable barriers, were included for more complete situational awareness.

Using these varied data layers, the system can identify the appropriate EMS, fire and tow truck operators in just seconds after an incident occurs. The external link to the Waze map also allows the duty officers and other responders to view additional information, including:

  • Live radar and sky guard alerts from AccuWeather
  • Access gates and barrier removal to help with access and backlog
  • Traffic speeds
  • Incident coverage for EMS, fire and automotive service providers
  • Video analytics to help with wrong-way drivers, roadway obstructions, and pedestrians on the roadway
  • Social media partnered with Waze
  • Mobile cameras on safety patrol cars

To harvest data from a variety of resources, the PTC implemented a robust geographic information system that consolidated and integrated data from a variety of sources. In addition to key asset information such as access gates and removable barriers, the organization incorporated near-real-time feeds from multiple PTC business areas as well as from partners at Waze, AccuWeather, INRIX, and Verizon. This data is collected, processed in a lightweight data format and consolidated into a suite of web-based applications that display each item. It is also archived for future analysis. The integration engine processes data within seconds, reducing the delay between sources and decision makers. As a robust, scalable system, PTC can continue to add more feeds as they become available.

PTC CAAR Program
Catch It Early, Act, Analyze and Review connects technology, social media, artificial intelligence (AI) and the Internet of Things (IoT) in a user-friendly dashboard to improve awareness of the total roadway network while dramatically reducing incident response time.

Historically, PTC’s Computer Aided Dispatch System (CADs) database was used to route and track fire stations and Emergency Medical Service (EMS) providers that service various sections of the Pennsylvania Turnpike. The solution enhanced the existing CADs database by converting this information into GIS data layers and combining them with videos, digital images, data-feeds (weather, traffic alerts, telematics truck tracking, CADs and travel speeds). At the same time, the PTC was able to greatly reduce the number of data inputs the duty officers monitor and individually assess.

With a comprehensive data repository in place, a custom safety-centric incident visualization tool was devised to associate data to the 1/10-mile markers along the roadway and generate preemptive awareness. “Instead of looking at six different screens, we kind of brought all those data sources together,” said PTC Senior Traffic Operations Project Manager John Parker. “It gives [duty officers] active watch points along the roadway, that 552-miles, that they can monitor and makes their job a lot easier.” Most importantly, compiling this library of static and near-real-time data feeds provides a foundation upon which data can be analyzed, visualized in context and understood at a deeper level.

GIS applications and dashboards were developed to display real-time data feeds, video, photos, radar, wind, travel speeds, weather, traffic conditions and the PTC safety and truck locations. These data layers, with alerts and symbolized by type, aid users and duty officers to quickly identify major traffic incidents.

PTC CAAR Program
The interactive GIS application displays real-time data from a variety of sources including social media and crowdsourcing applications.

The new visualization tool is displayed on a digital wall in the traffic operations center (TOC) and on each duty officer’s desktop. This allows them to monitor and focus on their roadway sections using one efficient solution.

Typical incident scenarios encountered range from a simple disabled vehicle to commercial vehicles with major blockages and hazmat issues.

In addition, the PTC is now able to use social media to send photos, video and situational traffic information, via a partnership with Waze, immediately to the individuals responsible for clearing the incident. “The more of a heads-up we can give those who are operationally addressing the issues at hand to shave off seconds and minutes to better respond and get free-flowing roadway to keep people safe—that’s the intent,” said Ken Juengling, GeoAnalytics Information Officer.

With this program suite of tools, the PTC is able to “Catch it Early, Act, Analyze and Review.” TEO utilizes these applications and dashboards daily to effectively manage and respond to situations as they arise by quickly detecting, viewing and evaluating impacted areas, and identifying relevant emergency service providers for any given section of monitored roadway.

It is the first preemptive analytical tool of its type that generates and consumes data from various open data sources. The data improves the quality of service to the community with opportunities to transform into a predictive solution with the help of AI.

Lee EnsmingerProject Manager

Lee Ensminger

By developing a map-centric analytics approach to display key safety data points, such as weather, wind, road speeds, video surveillance, social media responses via text, pictures and video, and associating them in visual layers to 1/10-mile markers, duty officers are armed with powerful information to make quick decisions, including deployment of the right responders to the right locations at the right time. This greatly increases the duty officer’s ability to make the roads safer by allowing whole system monitoring of traffic situations.

Since inception, incident clearance times have decreased by an average of 28 minutes. This resulted in reduced backlogs as well as reduction in first responder and safety personnel required on the roadway. It also cuts PTC’s overall costs and time. All of this provides the PTC’s paying customers a faster and safer commute.

“Our key guiding principles at the PA Turnpike include safety, innovation, and customer service, and this suite of apps is remarkable because it envelopes them all,” said PA Turnpike CEO Mark Compton. “I am extremely pleased how our team collaborated on these solutions — which will help improve situational awareness and enhance safety for our contracted responders, maintenance employees and customers.”

The project has demonstrated success by merging technology and social media to become a one-stop-shop solution to detect early, analyze better, reduce response times, and provide a safe and secure roadway to all drivers who use the turnpike.