On Tuesday, June 11, the Colorado Department of Transportation experimented with a peculiar new method of monitoring traffic. The CDOT completed a two-day test of a helium-filled traffic blimp over Interstate 25, the first such test in the nation.
No other state department of transportation has attempted to use a camera-equipped blimp, also known as an aerostat, to observe traffic, but the CDOT says it will provide more data and hopefully even cut costs for taxpayers.
Researchers at Texas AandM’s Transportation Institute found that traffic jams cost the U.S. economy a staggering $121 billion in 2011 — due to billions of lost man hours and shipping slowdowns. Not only that, but an estimated 2.9 billion gallons of gasoline were wasted by vehicles stuck in traffic as well.
The CDOT hopes that improved data from the aerostat will help the state improve its response to traffic incidents in real time.
“We are trying to be on the cutting edge of what is out there to best facilitate the information-gathering and incident management and detection and how do we manage our roads,” said CDOT Director of Communications Amy Ford.
Ryan Rice, the director of the CDOT Transportation Systems Management and Operations, says that Denver roads see hundreds of traffic incidents every day.
“In trying to detect those and know about them in a timely manner, the much bigger cost is in being able to detect an incident faster and know what type of response and resources are needed to clear it.”
The state borrowed the aerostat from the Colorado Springs company Sky Sentry. Unlike stationary cameras, the blimp allows CDOT experts to analyze a view of up to 10 miles. The project was delayed last week after a hole was found in the blimp, but after repairs were made, Rice said, the test went “really well.”
Now, officials are analyzing the results of the experimental pilot program to decide if purchasing an aerostat would ultimately be cost-effective for the state.