For as long as the U.S. has had cars traveling on roads and highways, our answer to alleviating traffic has been to build more roads and highways. And no matter how many times we've been disappointed by the short-term approach of 'adding more lanes', transportation experts, engineers and politicians have been reluctant to try anything else.

California's DOT may be changing that with management of communications technology to expedite traffic flow. That's what they're doing with the San Mateo Smart Corridor Project.

We’re working together to help people get to where they are going easier and faster,” said Caltrans Director Malcolm Dougherty. “This is a good example of how technology can help us make better use of the roads we already have.”

This $35 million dollar project, which is scheduled to be completed by fall 2013, received $17.5 million in funding from Proposition 1B, a 2006 voter-approved transportation bond. In total, nearly $14.6 billion in Proposition 1B funds have been distributed statewide.

The traffic tech tools – known as Intelligent Transportation Systems – include a fiber optic communication system that will connect to Caltrans’ Transportation Management Center in Oakland and 10 San Mateo County cities; electronic message signs that guide motorists through detour routes during freeway incidents; sensors providing information about the volume of traffic at specific locations; and closed circuit television cameras allowing Caltrans and the 10 cities to look at the traffic flow and determine the most effective way to reroute motorists during major congestion.

“Drivers will benefit from this innovative use of technology,” said Rich Napier, Executive Director of the City/County Association of Governments of San Mateo County. “When a traffic incident occurs, motorists will be provided with real-time information to help them choose whether to remain on the highway, choose a detour, or travel to the nearest public transit station.”

One of the major benefits of the project is that it will link more than 250 state and local traffic signals – enabling the signal timing to be adjusted remotely to better manage the flow of traffic during incidents, eliminating the need to drive to the signal to make adjustments.

The project also will improve communication and coordination among emergency responders, local agencies, and Caltrans because they will all have access to the same information.

“Smart corridor projects are an important component of Bay Area mobility and Caltrans is working with its partners to blaze a trail on this promising new technology,” added Bijan Sartipi, another Caltrans Director.

Good news indeed. Hopefully many other cities will be able to replicate the San Mateo project's approach.