The Virginia Department of Transportation and Virginia Tech’s Transportation Institute (VTTI) are building a 5.7-mile limited-access highway between Blacksburg and Interstate 81. This direct link will reduce traffic congestion and enhance safety in the region. Called the Virginia Smart Road, it is a unique, state-of-the-art, full-scale, closed test-bed research facility. The Smart Road is a 2.2-mile two-lane road that will eventually become part of the public transportation system connecting the Virginian city Blacksburg to the US freeway Interstate 81. The timetable for extending the road to I-81 will depend on the growing traffic demands on the Route 460 Bypass and state and federal transportation funding.
The Smart Road features weather-making capabilities (rain, snow, fog), a variable lighting test bed, pavement markings, an on-site data acquisition system, road weather information systems, differential GPS system, road access and surveillance, and a signalised intersection. Since its opening, transportation scientists and product developers have spent thousands of hours conducting research on this high-tech highway.
Control Room, Bridge, Smart Road Intersection and Weather & Lighting are some of its highlights.
Control Room: Dispatchers monitor the Smart Road from a computer-equipped control center that is staffed 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Researchers can observe highway traffic and driver performance, both directly and indirectly using surveillance cameras.
Bridge: The Smart Road Bridge, weighing approximately 40 million pounds, is the tallest in Virginia at 175 feet above Wilson Creek, and it hovers 2,000 feet over the beautiful Ellett Valley. Its 450-foot spans are three times longer than a typical highway bridge and feature massive, double-strength concrete piers.
Smart Road Intersection: The fully-instrumented signalised intersection is useful for a variety of projects and Smart Road testing. Fitted with customised controllers and vehicle presence sensors as well as wireless communications, the intersection is reconfigurable (e.g., turning lanes and crosswalks can be added as needed) and consists of two high-speed approaches and two low-speed approaches.
Weather and Lighting: The Smart Road is the world’s first controlled, all-weather test facility. Engineers also can control the lighting and the weather on the Smart Road. They have the capability to produce a wide range of weather and lighting conditions on an actual highway built to state and federal highway specifications.
A portion of the Smart Road is equipped with 75 weather-making towers. Each tower can rotate 360 degrees and tilt up and down to handle changing wind conditions. Researchers can make it rain – from a drizzle to a raging downpour. With correct ambient conditions, the towers can even produce snow – from a light dusting of powder to up to 4 inches per hour. A layer of ice can be created on the pavement to study the best systems for de-icing and anti-icing.
The Smart Road also has the capability to reproduce approximately 95% of all lighting situations a driver may encounter on U.S. roads. Researchers have conducted studies on new pavement markings, new road signs, pedestrian safety and new vehicle headlamps to help drivers see more clearly in a variety of lighting and weather conditions.
The Smart Road is equipped with enough technology for scientists to conduct research now and well into the future. The Road’s initial 2-mile test track comprises 14 experimental pavement systems. Four hundred electronic sensors buried in the road monitor moisture penetration, the weight and speed of vehicles, and the stress and strain on the pavement.
The Smart Road includes an advanced communications system including a wireless LAN interfaced with a fiber-optic back-bone. The network interfaces with several on-site data acquisition systems and road feature controls. This network may be used to transfer data between the vehicle, research building, and infrastructure within the Road.