VTTI Offers Free Tours Featuring Smart Road Research

BLACKSBURG, Va., April 4, 2003 – The Virginia Tech Transportation Institute (VTTI) will hold its annual spring open house April 16, 2003, from 5 - 9 p.m. Members of the community are invited to tour the Virginia Department of Transportation's (VDOT) Smart Road and to get a firsthand look at VTTI's cutting-edge transportation research. There is no charge for the tours.

"We think it's important for the public to see how the Smart Road is helping us solve transportation problems, like improving night visibility for drivers, alerting drivers of roadway hazards, designing more durable pavements that are less costly to maintain, and enhancing visibility in crosswalks to reduce pedestrian fatalities," said VTTI's Operations Director Cindy Wilkinson.

Visitors will have the opportunity to survey the Smart Road from the state-of-the-art control room, where researchers will demonstrate how information from the Smart Road is monitored and collected. Weather generation equipment, lighting and power controls, and the roadway surveillance camera system also will be shown.

Blacksburg Transit will provide bus rides on the Smart Road, giving visitors a close-up look at the road's technology. Because the tours are offered during evening hours, VTTI's lighting research will be highlighted. Lighting expert Ron Gibbons will exhibit his research on crosswalk lighting, giving visitors the chance to see how different lighting configurations affect how well drivers can see pedestrians. "We are verifying a lighting methodology that is currently used in Switzerland for implementation in North America," Gibbons said. Guests will observe pedestrians dressed in both light and dark clothing under several lighting conditions.

The Smart Road's weather-making capabilities also will be demonstrated. Buses will be sprayed with rain from testing towers. These testing towers allow researchers to produce up to five inches of rain per hour. The towers also can make as much as ten inches of snow per hour, provided temperatures are 27 degrees Fahrenheit or below. In addition, the towers can create a fog-like mist, reducing visibility to as little as three feet.

David Clarke, VDOT's assistant resident engineer at VTTI, said we are fortunate to have the Smart Road. "It is a nationally known and even internationally known research facility right here in our back yard. There was a lot of public debate and input during the design of the ;;Smart Road, so we feel it's important to keep the public informed and aware of the valuable research taking place here," he said.

Currently, the Smart Road is a 2.2 mile, two-lane road used specifically as a research facility. However, when the Smart Road is completed, it will be a six-mile connector highway between Blacksburg and Interstate 81, with the first two miles continuing to operate as a controlled test facility.

Guests at VTTI's open house will watch a short video overview of the Smart Road and will receive souvenirs of their visit.

For more information about VTTI's spring open house, please contact Events Coordinator Lisa Young at 231-1548 or lgyoung@vtti.vt.edu.