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Recognizing that environmentally-relevant real-time transportation data is critical for creating information upon which “green” transportation choices can be facilitated, the Intelligent Transportation Systems Joint Program Office of the US Department of Transportation created a research program titled, “Applications for the Environment: Real-Time Information Synthesis (AERIS).” Its purpose is to enable the development of technologies that create a more sustainable relationship between transportation operations and the environment through fuel use reductions and resulting emissions reductions. Based upon input from leading researchers in the field, the program is investigating the potential of operational scenarios, such as eco-signal, eco-routes and eco-lanes, to achieve environmental benefits.

Researchers at Virginia Tech, ODU and U.Va. have taken the challenge seriously.  Interested in the network-wide benefits of various AERIS applications, this MATS UTC-sponsored collaborative research project is exploring how such applications as eco-routing and eco-lanes, utilizing connected vehicle technology, can potentially reduce urban congestion, vehicle fuel consumption levels and greenhouse gas emissions. Similar to current GPS navigation systems that provide information on the fastest route to a specific destination, eco-routes identify the most fuel-efficient route for a vehicle between two points. Eco-lanes are similar to high-occupancy vehicle (HOV) lanes but target low-emission and high-occupancy vehicles as well as trucks and transit vehicles. To use the eco-lanes, vehicles are required to operate at recommended or variable speeds to reduce energy consumption. To lay the groundwork for wide-spread adoption of these strategies, the research team is creating simulation testbeds and robust models to better understand optimal operational conditions, real-time predictive capabilities and driver compliance issues.

Preliminary work is underway at Virginia Tech’s Center for Sustainable Mobility. Hesham Rakha, Ph,D., and Kryoungho Ahn, Ph.D., are leading efforts to develop predictive eco-routing algorithms focused on predicting the onset of congestion so that eco-routing operations can be provided to approaching vehicles.  Importantly, they are developing a real-time monitoring system that will continuously evaluate energy and environmental impacts using real-time traffic data. In addition, the team is developing algorithms to characterize optimum eco-lane conditions such as the spatial and temporal boundaries under various traffic conditions.

Mecit Cetin, Ph.D, of ODU’s Center for Innovative Transportation Solutions, is leading efforts to predict network conditions from probe vehicle data at recurrent bottlenecks to support eco-routing operations.  Traffic conditions at these bottlenecks are typically more volatile, making reliable prediction a challenge.  Robust prediction models will be assessed to determine their ability to provide reliable travel-time or delay information under varying conditions.

Underpinning these efforts is the need to understand issues around driver adoption and compliance. Brian Park, Ph.D., of U.Va.’s Center for Transportation Studies, is developing a testbed and modeling capabilities to assess drivers’ compliance on guided routes depending on the time of day, trip purpose and the quality of existing and alternative routes.

At the project’s completion, the researchers hope to have evaluated how all of the systems work together and have a better understanding of prediction, implementation and adoption issues. In particular, Rakha suggests that, “these operations have the capacity to change reality in the future.  If we use data collected today to predict traffic conditions tomorrow and we provide those predictions to drivers, then they have the opportunity to alter those conditions by taking different routes.  In essence, they’re changing the future.”

At the very least, adoption of these types of operational scenarios is expected to reduce fuel costs and congestion. “If these systems can achieve a 5-10% savings on fuel costs, you can imagine the positive economic impact for trucking and bus fleets as well as the overall positive impact on the environment,” suggests Rakha.   “Perhaps, more importantly, we have to consider the long term impact.  We have to care about these types of initiatives. Negative environmental impacts are slowly killing us.  We had better care.”

Building on previous research funded by AERIS related to eco-drive systems and eco-cooperative adaptive cruise control systems, as well as initial funding received from the TranLIVE UTC (Transportation for Livability by Integrating Vehicles and the Environment) at the University of Idaho, this MATS UTC project has brought together Virginia-based universities around common interests and aligned areas of expertise.  “This project has opened the door for the team to pursue additional funding in this domain of research,” explains Rakha.  “Ultimately, we hope to change the way that transportation affects the environment so that everyone benefits.”

For additional information, contact Hesham Rakha at 540-231-1505 or

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