New Valley Fog Alert System

March 4, 2009 5:45:37 PM PST
It's considered one of the most technologically advanced highway traffic projects in the country. The integrated system uses cameras, a weather sensor and message boards that all talk to each other. It starts at the Tulare-Fresno County line on Highway 99 and runs 13 miles north to Manning Avenue. Caltrans asked a private engineering firm to put the project on the fast track and what normally would have taken two years to build was done in just six months. Liz Justison, the project's Senior Engineer said, "There are lots of other fog systems but this is going to be the first automated fog system. The way the system works it's going to tell you what's happening downstream." Once a problem is detected it takes just 30 seconds for a message to appear on the boards on the shoulder of the highway. The idea to do something came after the devastating 90 car accident in November of 2007 that killed two people. Thick Tule fog was blamed.

Justison said, "It won't prevent that initial accident but it's going to make that accident not turn into a 100 car pileup. So when you have a fog problem in front of you and cars are stopped in front of you you're going to be warned that there's stopped traffic ahead of you."

Part of this project involved educating drivers about the dangers of fog with radio and TV commercials and the website foguniversity.com.

The new fog alert system is starting up as the CHP reports the number of fatal crashes in Fresno County dropped an unprecedented 20-percent from 2007 to 2008. Even so the highway patrol says drivers need to stay alert. Jim Abrames, Chief of CHP's Central California Division said, "Despite the technological advances that we can use to help keep people informed they are still the one in the driver's seat that we have to rely on to use good judgment."

You might wonder where any state agency got $12 million dollars for a project in this brutal economic climate. It came from the California Transportation Commission and it may have been funded just in time before the state's financial meltdown. If it works Caltrans will expand the system on Highway 99 and to rural communities.

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