Daily errants, commutes to benefit from "intelligent" system

The Oxford Eagle By Lucy Schultze
March 03, 2004

A project that began with the goal of using technology to ease traffic woes in Oxford continues to expand its potential applications into citizens’ everyday lives.

“By next fall, our goal is that you’d be able to get on your computer and see what the traffic on Jackson Avenue looks like before you go out there,” said Greg Easson, associate professor and director of the Geoinformatics Center at the University of Mississippi.

Easson, along with associate business management professor Hugh Sloan, lead a team of seven staff and graduate students who’ve been working for about three years on what’s known as the Oxford/UM Intelligent Transportation System Project.

So far, their work has mainly been gathering data — aerial photos, satellite images, traffic counts, terrain models — to build digital interactive maps of the city and surrounding areas.

Now, the project has been posted online at an “under construction” site, http://oumits.olemiss.edu. Citizens can access the maps there even as they continue to be updated with new features.

Currently, community members can zoom in to locate their houses on a digital map taken from an arial photo of town. Clicking another option will show all buildings of interest.

In the future, images of land parcels will be linked to a database of public information which would show who owned the property, how big it is and the amount for which it’s been appraised.

“We think this is really going to be something the public will be interested in,” Easson said.

Addressing traffic issues

While the potential applications for the digital mapping continue to multiply, the main challenges the project has aimed to address have been:

— Traffic congestion, especially at certain times and in certain places around town, including the way new apartment developments are impacting the existing road network.

— Effective use of parking resources, like managing gameday traffic and communicating with visiting motorists.

— Lack of network technology that would allow the city to coordinate the timing of stoplights and respond more quickly to traffic problems.

At a meeting with city officials this morning, the university team is making plans to install fiberoptic cable down West Jackson Avenue while work to expand the street is still underway.

That fiber will link to another line of fiber which the Mississippi Department of Transportation plans to lay, forming a line all the way across town from West Jackson Avenue at Highway 6 to University Avenue at Highway 334.

Through this network, the city will be able to time all the stoplights along Jackson and University avenues to keep traffic flowing smoothly.

“If the lights are set correctly for 8 a.m., that platoon of cars should be able to move straight through Jackson Avenue without stopping,” Easson said.

Also along the fiber network will be traffic cameras with full pan, tilt and zoom capabilities that will allow city police and MDOT to respond more quickly to traffic problems and accidents, including controlling the traffic lights remotely. The views from those cameras would also be available to the public online.

Taxpayer bargain

This project has been funded by about $1.6 million in federal funds secured by Rep. Roger Wicker, with 50-50 matching funds coming from the city and state in a variety of creative ways.

Contributing to that match amount have been things like the time city staff have spent working on the project as well as the city’s recent work to lay fiberoptic cable linking City Hall to the Oxford Police Department and Electric Department — something it was going to do anyway.

That fiber, Easson explained, will allow those city departments to tap into the data and monitoring capabilities of the ITS project. His state-funded salary and those of others on the project team also count toward the match — leaving the city paying “nothing extra,” as he explained to the Board of Aldermen Tuesday.

Aldermen enthusiastically voted to support the project’s moving forward. The project is planned for completion in the summer of 2005.

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