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Web portal to paint ‘big picture’ of Wisconsin traffic safety

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At Work for Wisconsin articles feature partnerships between Wisconsin businessees and UW-Madison College of Engineering research teams.

A unique website that pools information from many databases will help public audiences and Wisconsin transportation officials gain a broader perspective on traffic safety issues and needs.

Researchers in the Wisconsin Traffic Operations and Safety Laboratory (TOPS) at the University of Wisconsin-Madison developed the WisTransPortal, a data warehouse at “Identifying the safety problems isn’t simply identifying the locations where there were ‘X’ number of crashes,” says TOPS co-manager David Noyce, an assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering. “We think there’s a lot more to that, and that’s why we wanted to incorporate information from several sources that are not traditionally included.”

David A. Noyce

David A. Noyce (large image)

Among its information, the WisTransPortal will include Wisconsin crash data and health outcomes, crash costs, road weather information, citation data, emergency vehicle run data, lane and ramp closure data, and traffic detector data. “What’s unique about what we’re doing is that we’re pooling all this information — and that’s a model that no one has yet established in making transportation safety investments,” says Noyce.

The WisTransPortal crash-data component opened in 2006 and has received a steady increase in outside queries each month, says Noyce. When additional databases come online in early 2007, the site will enable users to combine information that traditionally resides in databases at various individual agencies to paint a more accurate picture of the economic and societal effects of traffic safety issues, and of the costs and benefits of safety-related improvements.

Already, transportation officials around the country use such information to help them identify and address key problem areas. Created in response to demand from Wisconsin transportation officials for a better system, the WisTransPortal is valuable because 2005 federal legislation mandates that states report their highest five percent of locations with safety issues annually, says Noyce.

Each state uses different criteria to identify those problem areas; the portal will enable Wisconsin officials to take a more holistic approach, he says. “For example, a spot where there have been few crashes, but perhaps is remote and difficult for emergency responders to get to — there are substantial costs associated with that,” says Noyce. “Just because the frequency of safety-related issues isn’t there, it still may be a spot where an investment needs to take place to proactively improve safety and prevent crashes from happening.”


Bin Ran (large image)

Steven T. Parker

Steven T. Parker (large image)

Beyond the federal reporting requirement, the portal will help transportation officials identify and address safety issues during road construction or reconstruction, he says. That means correcting existing safety problems, ensuring that safety problems aren’t inadvertently introduced, and ensuring that traffic and workers are safe during construction. “So not only before and after the project, but during the project, we maximize the safety of the location and understand what methodologies work best in maintaining traffic flow, yet minimize safety impacts,” says Noyce.

Data users’ initial response to the portal has been overwhelmingly positive, he says. “Not too long ago, those who needed this information essentially had to visit in person or call an office to get this information, and depending upon that person’s workload, it took some time,” says Noyce. “Now they literally can get online and in a matter of seconds, get access to the basic queries they want to make. Through one source, one portal, they’ll have access to many different sources of information that they never had access to before.”

Although the portal is Wisconsin-specific, the researchers hope someday to expand it to include information that helps them to study traffic safety at an interstate or regional level. Funding for the project, which includes TOPS co-manager and Civil and Environmental Engineering Professor Bin Ran and IT Project Manager Steven Parker, comes from the Wisconsin Department of Transportation, the Federal Highway Administration, and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.