News and Views : GETTING THERE: Traffic data will help rate Virginia's transportation spending

The state’s still young Smart Scale program was built on the idea that analytics could determine which projects are the best bet to improve Virginia’s transportation network.

Analytics, it turns out, also will be the judge of Smart Scale and how it is used.

Virginia and all other states will soon have analytics, in the form of updated and enhanced traffic data, to help determine how the road networks are working. It’s part of a federal government program that now requires states to use data to track how their networks are doing, according to a presentation at the Commonwealth Transportation Board’s meeting last week by Nick Donohue, the state’s deputy secretary of transportation.

Donohue said it is early in the process, and he has concerns with some of the program’s methods. But he added that the new federally required data analytics program should also eventually help determine which road projects work and which don’t.

Donohue said the data should tell us something important about Smart Scale: “Did we really get what we thought we were buying?”

So far more than 300 projects have been funded in the first two rounds of Smart Scale, which uses an analytics scoring system to rate projects for funding. Work has started on many of the projects.

The new federal “performance” measuring program is using data collected in various ways from vehicles, and it allows for precise traffic information, which could help planners pinpoint things that work, as well as identify problems, Donohue said.

There are two major categories in the program. One tracks reliability and the other peak hour delays. The peak hour delay data are based on population and don’t include the Fredericksburg region. But the reliability category provided some interesting details about Interstate 95 through the Fredericksburg region.

The data show Interstate 66 is constantly bad, meaning you can count on backups, according to Donohue. The I–95 corridor, on the other hand, is considered unpredictable—one moment traffic may be flowing, but an hour later the interstate is a parking lot.

The Fredericksburg region’s stretch of I–95 was by far the worst in the state when it comes to predictable reliability, according to data from 2016 and 2017. The numbers improved slightly in 2017, but not by much.

Donohue said it’s early in the process and they’re using “rough data.” He expects the data will improve and that down the road, when projects are completed, the program should prove to be a solid judge of state planners and Smart Scale.

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