Yes, driving times on Route 1 are a little slower this year than last year, but by next September Route 1 may be a kinder, faster highway at least that’s what the state police and DOT are saying.

The road will be kinder because using techniques borrowed from Mothers Against Drunk Driving the cops will continue their inexorable crackdown on road rage. They aim to stigmatize aggressive drivers. And the road will be faster because the smart highway scheme will be fully installed.

Yes, the Intelligent Transportation System, the 29 mile segment of Route 1 from Trenton to Edison, is guaranteed to speed up traffic. The project began August, 1996, and is scheduled to be completed in August, 1998. In fact, last week’s lane closing on Route 1 South around Independence Way was caused by crews from Conti Enterprises, holder of the $27 million contract for ITS.

The strategy behind ITS is to take the existing highway and make it smarter, therefore faster, by using pavement sensors, computers, cameras, and electronnic signs. The pavement will `know’ when traffic comes to a standstill and flash a warning to the computer. In the event that the accident backs up for miles, the operator can override the computer and put in more green time, says Jeff Lamm, DOT spokesperson.

Fiber optic lines are being installed to computerize traffic signals and connect them with a DOT traffic operations center. In addition, 14 traffic surveillance cameras are being mounted on cement poles. These cameras will be able to look pan, tilt, and zoom at key intersections, to notify the traffic operations center when there is an accident or traffic slows because someone has broken down, says Lamm. Two permanent overhead variable message signboards will be installed to alert drivers to traffic conditions.

All this will be controlled by a traffic operation center in Mount Laurel, one of two currently in place in the state. Mount Laurel’s center has been working pretty well for two years, says Lamm, controlling traffic on Route 73 from the Berlin circle to the Tacony Palmyra Bridge, also a heavily traveled corridor." A side benefit of the operation center is that it can instantly alert drivers via radio reports. And in the far future, perhaps, such reports, along with maps of alternate routes, might be downloaded into a motorist’s laptop PC see follwing story.

ITS may be a sure bet to make Route 1 faster but how can the police guarantee to make it a kinder, gentler roadway? Simple statistics, says John R. Hagerty, spokesperson for the New Jersey State Police. From April through July police increased patrols to catch aggressive drivers in six counties: Atlantic, Bergen, Burlington, Essex, Middlesex, and Monmouth. In those counties, highway fatalities dropped 19 percent. The other counties showed no decrease.

Thus encouraged, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration will add $390,000 to an already allocated $450,000 grant. Aggressive driving is a growing menace on our highways and requires a strong deterrence, says Peter Verniero, attorney general. It’s encouraging that preliminary results coming from our Aggressive Driver/Aggressive Enforcement campaign show that the effort is having an impact.

Yes, there were 23,434 summonses issued during the first report crackdown, but summonses are not the key, says Hagerty. What matters is public opinion. Even now, according to an American Automobile Association survey, 40 percent of all drivers surveyed feel that the aggressive driver is the most dangerous hazard facing them on the road. The state police are apparently trying to use everyone’s readiness to cry shame to change driver behavior. The model for this is how M.A.D.D. made heavy drinkers into pariahs. You can’t go to a party in the ’90s and leave, drunk, to drive home without someone stopping you. That’s the result of the M.A.D.D. campaign that began in the ’70s, says Hagerty.

The police are publicizing how the public should report aggressive drivers (#77 on your cellular phone, 888-SAF-ROAD on your regular phone). A summons cannot be issued unless the police actually observe the aggressive behavior, but it alerts the driver that other drivers can report them, says Hagerty.

The public awareness campaign can make a difference in driver safety, says Colonel Peter J. O’Hagan, director of the division of highway traffic safety.

Now for those driving times. Each September U.S. 1 sends reporters out to Route 1 to drive the section between Raymond Road and Franklin Corner Road at rush hour. Last year was the fastest year of all: The Alexander Road overpass was in place and the survey encountered zero construction.

This year the average time was two minutes and 45 second slower than last year. One 5 p.m. rush hour drive was an average of eight minutes slower due to that construction at Independence Way.

What also made drives slower is that there are simply more people on the roads. Buildings are fully occupied and new companies are coming to town. Two minutes and 45 seconds may be a small price to pay for this prosperity.

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