New Fiber Optic Line Could Help Traffic Flow

by ARLnow.com January 19, 2011 at 12:49 pm 4,579 30 Comments

Getting from place to place by car or bus may be getting a bit easier in Arlington.

This weekend the county board is expected to approve a $4 million contract that will install six miles of fiber optic line along the Rosslyn-Ballston corridor, Columbia Pike and Glebe Road. It’s the first phase of a long-term traffic management project that planners hope will allow more intelligent, real-time management of traffic flow in the county.

In addition to connecting 54 county traffic signals, the fiber line will add capacity for traffic management tools like traffic cameras, motorist information signs, and traffic counters.

The initial phase of the project includes four new traffic monitoring cameras, at the intersections of Washington Boulevard and Wilson Boulevard, Columbia Pike and Walter Reed Drive, Columbia Pike and Glebe Road, and at Glebe Road and Arlington Boulevard (Route 50). An additional 17 cameras throughout the county could be installed by the end of the year, according to Traffic Engineering and Operations Bureau Chief Wayne Wentz. The new cameras would supplement the Arlington’s existing 29 traffic cams.

The first phase of the project also includes a new motorist information sign — commonly used to relay real-time traffic information or advisories — on Route 50 at Pershing Drive. Additional signs are planned as more fiber is installed.

Through enhanced monitoring and improved communication, the fiber lines will eventually lead to a smarter traffic management system that is able to automatically change traffic signal timings to deal with unexpected changes in traffic patterns.

“Our long-term plan for our intelligent transportation system is to measure traffic in real time and adjust traffic signal timing patterns on a daily or hourly basis,” Wentz said. “It will let us do more things to deal with congestion.”

Currently, traffic signal timings are adjusted systematically every three years. Individual re-timings are conducted more frequently in response to specific complaints, Wentz added, and systems are in place to deal with specific high-traffic events like the Fourth of July or an evacuation of D.C.

In addition to traffic management applications, the fiber lines will also be used as a common network backbone for county facilities, from schools to libraries to bus depots. The traffic monitoring systems will also be of use to public safety agencies, who will be able to “monitor special events and reduce response time to incidents,” according to a staff report.

When the multi-phase project is completed, fiber optics will have replaced 52 miles of “outdated and unreliable” copper lines from the 80s, at a cost of about $20 million. Most of the project is expected to be complete by the end of 2014, Wentz said.

Flickr pool photo by pderby

  • Rover

    You can bet there will be lots of red light cameras and speed cameras forthcoming. Hell, let’s just put the license plate scanners right on the fiber optic backbone and put a reader at each intersection!

    • info for thought

      if the county is going to put it up you known it won’t work right anyway. but it will cost alot more than they say it will

  • Runaway Train

    Here is a link for an argument against real time traffic signs.


  • Laima

    How many roads are going to get ripped up and repaved again? Who is the company selling the fiber optic?

  • notahoo

    I thought we were on a no-car diet. Why is the county now spending a bunch of money to help cars? I am totally confused. At least cira looked nice when I poked my head in last night.

    • mehoo

      Diet, not starvation.

    • FrenchyB

      Buses get stuck in traffic jams with cars, too.

      • notahoo

        Those are good points.

  • ClarendonKing

    I like this idea! It means less stopping which is better for the environment and faster. It also encourages you to drive the speed limit.

    • Rick

      Route 1 in Old Town proves this correct. It’s unfortunate I have to go miles out of my way to keep my sanity driving to work because the lights on Glebe, Lee, Quincy, Fairfax.. none of them are connected to the other and some days it takes 6 minutes some days 15.

    • madisonmanor

      … less stopping which is better for the environment and faster . . . gee – just like widening I-66 would actually accomplish. I drive the “reverse commute”, which is no picnic these days. If our elected officials would actually drive these routes EVERY DAY they would see that opposing that widening and the HOT lanes just don’t make any logical sense – not that anyone claims they do anything based on logic.

      • mehoo

        Widening I-66 would do nothing. Especially when it ends with a bottlenecked bridge anyway.

        • Rover

          Based on an assumption that everyone on I66 is going into DC, which isn’t true.

          • madisonmanor

            I know I don’t go all the way to DC (after all, I live in Arlington). But necking down from 5+ lanes down to 2 in the span of a mile inbound doesn’t work and was an incredibly poor design. Continuing to fight a poor design just on principle is my definition of Arlington Insanity.

  • Rick

    Does anyone know where to send signal complaints? I don’t even see a public works tab on the county website anymore. I have a half dozen intersections I need to vent about

    • Call V-Dot

      According to the new radio spots that they’ve been running, you can call V-Dot for issues with intersections. 1-800-For-Road

      • Rick

        tried vdot. They don’t care. Arlington controls their own sign and signals. Theres a number on the site, or I can send a general form

    • G

      I made a complaint in the past about a street light near my condo. I requested a left turn signal because sometimes during rush hour it sometimes takes 15 minutes to make a simple left turn into my condo because of endless oncoming traffic. The conducted a review, and determined that a turn signal was not needed… of course. Anyway, I just submitted a general comment using this form:


      They forwarded it to the appropriate department and they got back to me.

  • Northerner

    notahoo, I believe the “no-car diet” is a front for the county green movement. Bottom line though = the more cars, the more income from personal property tax.

    • mehoo

      A “front?” No, it is part of the green movement. And that’s good. Fewer cars not only means less pollution and better quality of life, it also means less traffic for those who are still in their cars.

      • Northerner

        yes, I sit corrected. What I meant by front was a “headline” of sorts, or a key component of the green movement. Cheers

        • mehoo

          Okay. Cheers to you!

  • Bringmetheyuppies

    Traffic cameras my ass. col pk and glebe- walter reed are one long block long. These cameras are more likely to be used for crime as those two intersections would allow visual capture of most cars on th epike and leaving the pike toward the highways.

  • Dude Where’s My Car

    For a network engineer, this story raises more questions than it answers. POINT 1: Do you guys have any idea how much bandwidth you can get down a fiber optic line? Many, many times what you would need to control traffic lights. It’s pitched as “hey this will make teh traffic lights less annoying,” but then it’s OH BY THE WAY it can be used as a common backbone for County facilities like schools and libraries. It’s sort of like saying you need a 747 to commute to work, and since you’re already going to have a 747 for your own personal commute, you might as well sell some seats on it to passengers… Hmmmm… POINT 2: Twisted pair (copper wire) is not inherently unreliable, so why would you spend millions on a new fiber network, when you can just replace the equipment at the ends of your network to upgrade it? If there’s a break in a wire, equipment like a TDR can tell you exactly where it is. POINT 3: Since most of the network will still be “unreliable” copper connecting to this fiber backbone, how much are you really improving the overall reliability of the network? Or does that have to wait until Phase II, Phase III ($100 million later) before everything’s upgraded? POINT 4: There is “dark fiber” (unused) all over the place. Did anyone consider the less expensive option of buying dark fiber instead of digging up streets, AGAIN? POINT 5: Can the County sell its excess capacity and recoup some of the costs of pulling fiber? Enquiring Engineers want to know!

    • alebt

      The above raises some great questions. Have they all been addressed in a scope of work submission on this project?

    • mehoo

      You’re telling me I was a sucker for getting FiOS?

    • Rover

      The fiber may be used for the lights, but it isn’t going in just for the lights. If the insulation on the old copper lines is bad, rendering a need to replace them, the move to fiber is logical. Why pull new copper when you can just pull fiber. But, the additional bandwidth does now allow for much more to be done. Expect many cameras, because video takes up quite a bit of bandwidth that you can’t really get on old decrepid copper.

  • courthouse

    One thing to note, and which was not brought up in the article, is that the County’s deal with Comcast to supply internet connectivity to County buildings (and schools) is set to expire within the next few years. Once that expires, the County will have to pay millions of dollars for connectivity. Since utility companies are already opening up the ground to adjust wiring, it makes a lot more sense for the County to lay fiber optic wire now rather than having to pay to dig trenches in the future on its own. Also note that this is not just for traffic (and who said that there would be giant signs like in MD? The County traffic center in the Wilson building would allow them to adjust light schedules), and can be used for any number of other, non-Big Brother things down the line.

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