Seven people control hundreds of traffic cameras and message boards, with the fate of Hampton Roads drivers resting in their hands.
“There are 81,406 incidents that this control room has handled this year, and that averages out to about 10 an hour,” said Dwayne Cook, Regional Operations Manager for VDOT.
Cook took NewsChannel 3 on an exclusive tour of their transportation operations center, showing us exactly how they spring into action when major incidents take place, like Thursday morning's icy commute.
“We first reported them as accidents, and once on scene, we understood that black ice had formed,” said Cook.
After making sure the roads are safe, they still have another job—communicating the resulting backups to the public.
“It all starts with the initiation of an incident from computer system,” said Cook. “The system will suggest, that on these ten signs, on this stretch of roadway, this is what I think you should do.”
The computer program actually comes up with the wording for the alerts that go out on the message boards and radio station…operators are limited by the options the program provides.
Those alerts are followed by a 511 update a few minutes later…sending out information to their website, twitter, and app followers.
But as many drivers can attest...the information is not always perfect.
“There are critics of the information, but those are users of the system and we have to take that seriously,” said Cook.
He stresses, though, that while this automated alert system is used to inform drivers, the real purpose is to get timely information to first responders heading to accidents--VDOT says safety must always come first.
“It’s a balance, a compromise, and we try as best we can,” said Cook.