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Cell Phones Help Monitor Traffic

October 18, 2005
By: Kathryn Buschman
State Capital Bureau

JEFFERSON CITY - Missouri will be the first state in the nation to use cell phone signals in a state wide effort to reduce traffic congestion.

Under the contract, the Missouri Department of Transportation would use data from cell phone towers to track traffic flow, the average speed of vehicles, and estimate travel times.

"The important thing to know about the data is that it doesn't give anything like peoples names who own these phones, gives us no phone numbers, nothing at all about anyone personally, it just gives us groups of data that shows average speed and travel times," said Jeff Brigg, spokesman for the Department of Transportation. "It is completely anonymous."

The state is still finalizing a contract with the National Engineering Technology Corporation (NET) to gather the data. Briggs said he hopes the program will be running by Jan.1

The Missouri Department of Transportation would post the information on its website and on highway message boards. Briggs said informing commuters of traffic delays is just one of the program's benefits.

"It will also help us plan future improvements, make sure we're spending our resources in the area where it would really most improve traffic flow," Briggs said.

However, the idea of government officials tracking commuters' locations raised concerns for one driver.

"I think thats just personal, I pay the bill," said Cheryl Alexander of Harrisonville.

The ACLU of Eastern Missouri said they have not decided whether they would support the project. An ACLU spokesperson said the group needs more information before commenting.

Currently the state monitors traffic flow through video detection cameras and pavement sensors embedded into highways. Briggs said these methods are only used in metro areas.

"Its gets expensive and can tie up traffic," Briggs said. "But the beauty of this new system is that it requires no equipment that is not already being used and requires no maintenance and much more cost effective that way."

Briggs said after ten years, the new program will cost about 1/6 of what it would cost the state to use current traffic monitoring methods.

Earlier in the year NET set up a similar program in Baltimore. Steven McDonald, project and area manager for NET, said some Baltimore residents were skeptical of the program, but became more comfortable when they understood more about the process.