Rieth-Riley Controls Traffic with iCones
Rieth-Riley Construction Co. Inc. has implemented a real-time message board to combat distracted driving, inform the traveling public and keep its crews safe.
When Rieth-Riley Construction Co. Inc. bid for a 73-mile-long reconstruction project on the Indiana Toll Road, the Goshen, Indiana-based company brought some suggestions to the table for the design-build project. Among those ideas was the implementation of a real-time message board to inform the traveling public of traffic issues.
“They were very concerned about minimizing delays to the traveling public,” said Rieth-Riley Project Manager Jacob Kwilasz. “[The real-time message board] is ideal for high traffic jobs so drivers can receive real-time alerts of what is happening ahead of them.”
However, the system is not just about serving the customer. It’s also about keeping crews safe in work zones.
“Distracted driving is becoming a bigger issue day by day with all the gadgets we tend to have in our cars,” Kwilasz said. “Our crews like the idea of letting those in traffic know ahead of time to pay extra attention.”
Each system, manufactured and maintained by iCone, Cato, New York, included two message boards and eight smart traffic cones. On this particular project, Rieth-Riley had as many as four real-time message board systems deployed at one time within different work zones along the project.
First established in 2008, iCone has been present on thousands of projects nationwide.
Rieth-Riley alone has used iCones on around a dozen other projects, including a job on I-94. On that job, the cones also measured traffic to determine when to schedule lane closures. “That ended up cutting a year off the calendar for that one job,” said iCone Managing Partner Ross Sheckler, adding that the success of the job not only saved time and money, but was also the focus of a case study by the Federal Highway Administration.
How It Works
The smart traffic cones, made by iCone, contain sensors which can monitor the speed and number of passing vehicles to determine real-time traffic conditions and then transmit this information to the two message boards.
Rieth-Riley placed the eight cones at 1-mile increments from the start of the work zone. The message boards were located 4 miles and 8 miles from the start of the work zone.
“As traffic slows by any of the iCones, it automatically transmits that message to the message board, which automatically updates its message,” Kwilasz said. “Instead of someone manually updating those message boards, they communicate directly with the cone.”
For example, if traffic begins to slow at the cone 1 mile from the start of the work zone, once it hits a certain point, the message board 4 miles out will notify drivers that traffic is stopped or slowed 3 miles ahead, and will notify drivers 8 miles out that traffic is slowed or stopped 7 miles ahead. If the cone 2 miles out starts seeing slowed traffic, it will communicate with the message board and update the distance at which drivers should expect to stop. When traffic conditions are clear, the message boards would display “Road construction 4”–or 8–”miles ahead.”
According to Sheckler, information collected by the sensors within the cones is transmitted to iCone’s servers in New York, where they are run through a number of algorithms to determine the appropriate message to display. Direct communication between each sensor and iCone’s servers in New York means that if one sensor fails, they will still receive data from the other sensors to display on the message boards.
iCone offers a handful of preset packages of what messages will display when, but it can also make tweaks as needed by the customer. Common messages include “Stopped traffic X miles ahead,” detour recommendations, or specific instructions about merging.
“When things are really backed up, we want traffic to use both lanes and only merge when they get to the construction,” Sheckler said. The method iCone uses is called a dynamic lane merge. On the message board furthest from the work zone, they instruct drivers to use both lanes, and on the message board closest to the lane closure, they instruct drivers to take turns merging. “People tend to get mad when drivers zoom by in the empty lane after being told to merge, but what we’ve found is people behave really well when we give them specific instructions.”
Additionally, Rieth-Riley was able to work with iCone to ensure that specific people on the crew or with the toll road be notified by text or email in the event of a delay.
“We could have one person notified by text if the delay reaches 1 mile, and another notified by email if it reaches 2, and so on,” Kwilasz said. This service also helps the toll road determine messages to display on its other message boards about upcoming road conditions. Users can also log in on iCone’s website to see the real-time status of their work zones.
The Future of iCone
Although this real-time message board technology offers a number of advantages already, this is only the beginning.
According to iCone, their cones can also transmit this information to the GPS navigation app Waze, known for offering users crowd-sourced information on traffic conditions and hazards.
“We’ve heard crews talk about how the foreman will put their work zones on Waze at the start of the shift,” Sheckler said, “but if no one repeats that update for 15 minutes, that message disappears.” However, iCone updates Waze about work zones every two minutes. “Within a minute of turning on that message board, that update is in Waze, and it’s there until you turn that message board off.”
By the end of the year, iCone data will also go to Google, and eventually, directly to connected cars with integrated communications systems, like those Toyota and GM plan to roll out in 2021.
Third Party Service and Support
To set up the system on the Indiana Toll Road, Rieth-Riley subcontracted with Traffic Control Specialists. The systems can be deployed by around a dozen traffic control contractors iCone works with, including TCS, AWP, Colorado Barricade and Road-Tech Safety Services in under 30 minutes.
“We insist on working with professionals who will take care of the equipment and ensure they’re executed properly and will be able to handle any issues that arise,” Sheckler said. “You can’t screw up when implementing these technologies.”
For example, the Cadillac Supercruise system, which offers drivers hands-free and foot-free driving, will automatically turn off when driving through a work zone so the driver must focus fully on driving. However, if the technology is implemented incorrectly, that won’t happen. Currently, Cadillac reaches out to states and municipalities directly to find out about active work zones, but in the future with technology like iCone, that will happen automatically.