Sitting in traffic is the worst thing that a motorist can endure in a commute (or maybe it's only being able to receive one radio station, which happens to be in the middle of a 'Greatest Hits of Celine Dion' countdown). The drivers don't know the cause of the delay, but they may have been able to avoid the congestion if they had had prior knowledge. That is where the PennDOT District 6-0 Traffic Control Center comes into the picture.
The state-of-the-art Traffic Management Center (TMC) is located at the District 6-0 headquarters in King of Prussia. It oversees the operation of the highway system of the largest city in Pennsylvania, and one of the several in the Northeastern Megalopolis. It operates 24 hours-a-day, seven days-a-week and is the second generation TMC; the original began in 1993 in the former District 6-0 headquarters in Saint Davids off Interstate 476.
The TMC is part of an Advanced Traveler Information System, providing information that is gathered from the highways in the metropolitan area to customers, media, and transportation partners. PennDOT uses the Internet, 100 closed circuit television cameras, satellites, ramp metering, and 40 dynamic message signs to keep traffic flowing in the five-county area of southeastern Pennsylvania.
Since PennDOT is a member of the I-95 Corridor Coalition, which is a union of transportation agencies along the Interstate 95 corridor from Florida to Maine, alerts can be passed back and forth between them to warn travelers of congestion ahead. For example, if an accident occurs on Interstate 95 at the Vine Street Expressway, traffic alerts via dynamic message signs (DMS) can be sent as far south as Washington, DC or as far north as New York City. Conversely, if the same where to happen in other areas along Interstate 95, those agencies could contact the TMC and instruct them to change the DMS messages along I-95 to alert motorists.
PennDOT staff at the TMC monitor conditions on I-95, I-476, I-676, and US 422 with the help of 56 closed circuit television cameras. With a "bird's eye view" of traffic, staff can quickly spot problems and immediately alert the Philadelphia Expressway Patrol and Pennsylvania State Police of an incident. Local traffic services, such as KYW 1060 AM, will also be alerted so they may pass along news to travelers. Emergency agencies will also be alerted in cases of fire or serious accidents. There are plans to provide information gathered at the TMC to the public via the Internet.
The joint was jumping in summer 2000 when the Philadelphia TMC served as a transportation hub during the Republican National Convention. Representatives from the Pennsylvania State Police, Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission, Pennsylvania National Guard, Maryland State Highway Administration, and the Delaware Department of Transportation were stationed there to react to any situation that might have impacted the convention.
The PennDOT Expressway Service Patrol is the "hands-on" portion of traffic control in Philadelphia. The fleet consists of 20 GMC Twin Line Lift tow trucks equipped with emergency lights and arrow boards. Trucks continuously patrol Interstates 76, 95, 676, and US 1/Roosevelt Boulevard between I-76 and Ninth Street from 5 AM to 8 PM; and Interstate 476, US 202 between US 30 and King of Prussia, and US 422 between King of Prussia and PA 29 from 5:30 AM to 9:30 AM and 3:30 PM to 7:30 PM. Trucks are also sometimes stationed 24 hours a day, seven days a week within work zones to assist motorists as well as to clear broken down vehicles from the open travel lanes.
While the trucks are usually dispatched due to the eagle-eyed workers manning the monitors at the Traffic Management Center, motorists can also call 911 for assistance. In that case, the call will be received by the State Police who will in turn contacts dispatch at the TMC to send a truck.
These patrols began in Pittsburgh in 1996 as the "Parkway Patrol," expanded to include Philadelphia in July 2000, Harrisburg a few years later, and in the Allentown-Bethlehem-Easton area in January 2005.
The patrols help motorists for free when their vehicles suffer mechanical failure, flat tires, or involved in a minor accident. Changing tires, providing fuel, providing a battery jump start, temporarily repairing cooling system hoses, and refilling radiators are some of the standard services provided to get a vehicle mobile. If the operator can not fix the problem within 10 minutes, or if something more serious is found, the vehicle is towed to a designated drop-off location here the owner can call for additional help. Only automobiles, motorcycles, and small trucks are towed. The patrols also assist local law enforcement at accident scenes by providing traffic control or moving vehicles involved out of traffic lanes. Even if not caused by an accident, crews are responsible for removing small non-hazardous debris from the highways.
Equipment on Board Each Truck
Emergency Service Patrol operators wear a uniform consisting of a white shirt with light gray stripes and a PennDOT logo on the shoulder, lime-green reflective vest, dark pants with reflective stripes, and black caps with "Expressway Service Patrol" written in green, but in winter months, they wear lime-green jackets. They also carry identification with their picture, name, and no reference to any private towing company.
As part of the program, the Emergency Service Patrol operator will ask the motorist to fill out a self-addressed stamped postcard evaluating the service. The card's destination is the Traffic Management Center and its purpose is help District 6 improve the patrol service.
The Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission named the TMC as the 2005 Pennsylvania Regional Transportation Project of the Year.