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MOVING TRAFFIC, HIGH-TECH STYLE.

Byline: Lisa Mascaro Staff Writer

While commuters inch along in freeway traffic, researchers have focused on inventing behind-the-scenes gadgets that apply Information Age breakthroughs to steel-and-concrete thoroughfares.

The so-called intelligent transportation systems range from the ho-hum closed-circuit televisions and ramp meters commuters know well, to newer technologies that experts believe can speed traffic along.

One invention that now guides snow plows in whiteouts could be used to keep cars from veering into other lanes. Another, without as much ``Futurama'' pizazz, would create a parking reservation system to reduce the pursuit for elusive spaces.

Think tanks, like the Caltrans-University of California-sponsored Partners for Advanced Transportation Highways, are dreaming up computers, sensors and satellites that can collect data from the car, the road or another vehicle, then pass it along.

They could tell the driver to brake if he's about to crash, avoid a congested spot down the road or that a car part needs replacing to prevent a looming breakdown.

One main PATH project demonstrated five years ago on the I-15 in San Diego used technology to platoon vehicles closer together, increasing the number of cars in each freeway lane, said PATH's senior deputy director Steven Shladover.

An upcoming demonstration next year would look at using similar technology to run trucks in a single lane, whisking them along with high- tech precision - and freeing up more space for cars, Caltrans said. Buses along fixed routes could be operating with that kind of technology in five years, Shladover said.

Such projects carry a price tag of about $10,000 per lane mile. That compares with $3 billion to $11 billion that Caltrans estimates it would cost to double-deck or expand the 40 miles of the 101 Freeway from Thousand Oaks to downtown; $15 million a mile for the so-called Personal Rapid Transit system; $50 million a mile that entrepreneur Robert L. Rosebrock estimates for his car-carrying mag-lev trains; and $300 million for each new mile of subway.

``Constructing a new lane of highway is a very expensive thing to do. ... You have to have a really high level of demand to justify that kind of level of expense,'' Shladover said. ``In many cases, use of these information technologies can provide some of these benefits at lower costs.''

But he added, it's hard to drum up support to get the ideas on the road.

``It's not always easy to get these technology-oriented things on the table for discussion,'' he added. ``If you have something that's going to take more than two years or four years to get to the ribbon-cutting, it's hard to get the enthusiasm built up.

``This isn't 'The Jetsons,''' he added. ``This is something that's easy to visualize in a normal vehicle, normal bus, normal car. ... It has a real potential to improve the quality of life.''

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(color) Robert L. Rosebrock has developed futuristic plans to solve L.A.'s gridlock, but experts are not convinced his ideas are practical or economical.

Andy Holzman/Staff Photographer
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Aug 12, 2002
Words:500
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