The successful and popular system of 50 cameras had grown to 300, with plans for doubling that amount in the near future, and scalability was becoming a concern. MDOT recognized that it had a self-perpetuating problem: each new camera required more equipment to support it, which required more room in the central equipment room and more energy-consuming air conditioning to deal with heat from the electronics. Partner agencies that wanted to join the system also had to add expensive equipment of their own, and costs were threatening to balloon. In addition, the videos on the website were only supported in Windows Media Player, despite the proliferation of alternative video software.
Instead of looking for a temporary solution, the GS&P team saw an opportunity to replace MDOT’s existing setup with an elegant system that provides more traffic videos from more cameras to more motorists and partner agencies with less energy-hungry hardware in the central equipment room. At the same time, the new system saves tens of thousands of dollars and is significantly more environmentally sustainable.
“Doing more with less goes into the type of solution we picked,” says team member Ranzy Whiticker. “MDOT’s legacy system relied on technology that provided constantly streaming video and consumed vast amounts of bandwidth. From a video’s source to its final destination, it could travel through as many as twelve devices plus network switches, introducing numerous points of failure.
“For our solution, the team turned to the widely used H.264 video format and distribution servers, the same familiar technology used by CNN, Fox News, YouTube and others. H.264, the technology behind high-definition television, compresses each traffic video image and makes it more accessible on more platforms. In addition, the solution uses Real-Time Streaming Protocol, which requires far less bandwidth than constantly streaming images.”
Team member Laura Hartley compares bandwidth to water flowing through a pipe. “Do you want your faucet running all the time or just when you turn it on? That’s the difference between constantly streaming video and on-demand, and it’s the key component that makes this solution so successful.”
A snapshot of the old system during peak demand showed that it used approximately 87.8 Mbps; in comparison, the new system uses only 64.8 Mbps. The new system requires 90 percent less equipment to distribute the same amount of video, and with fewer points of potential failure, the system is even more reliable and simpler to support than before. And because H.264 is standards-based and supported via both hardware and software products across multiple industries utilizing video, partner agencies, such as MDOT’s traffic management centers, the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency and Mississippi MED-COM, don’t have to buy expensive equipment to join the system. All they need is an Internet connection. Public safety officials, local news teams and motorists planning a trip can easily access the system on a computer, tablet or other mobile device.
Saving Money, Improving Mobility
The results of MDOT’s hurricane evacuation project along Interstates 55 and 59 prove the cost-saving advantages of the new system. MDOT has 100 roadside cameras planned that will keep motorists and public officials informed of traffic conditions along this vital route. The legacy video system would have required the support of 89 separate devices in the central equipment room. The new H.264-based system requires just nine devices to support the same number of cameras. Eliminating the extra devices will save MDOT $176,000.
With access to the new quick, simple and affordable traffic video system, partner agencies are using the information to improve public safety. An accident along the I-59 hurricane evacuation route recently proved the value of the system to Terry Steed, director of the Forrest County Emergency Management Agency.
“A quick look at an accident location along I-59 and we were able to determine where to enter the traffic flow to quickly reach the accident site. The ability to monitor the video on our tablets, en-route, is also very helpful. Entering I-59 from the wrong ramp can cause a response vehicle to become blocked by traffic, limiting the ability to effectively respond.”
Steed has also used the website to monitor traffic backups and coordinate with others to manage traffic. “This has allowed us to advise law enforcement if a roadblock needs to be moved due to traffic being backed up because of an accident. During special events, especially around the University of Southern Mississippi, we use our USM wall layout to manage the traffic around campus. Additionally, monitoring traffic during hurricane evacuations is very helpful in determining the amount of traffic coming into the Hattiesburg area.”
The new system’s environmental benefits are equally as clear and measurable. With less hardware in the central equipment room, the new system produces far less heat. It now generates 8,300 BTU, compared with the old system’s 122,600 BTU, and electricity consumption dropped from 38,700 watts to 2,900 watts. Those figures represent an overall 93 percent savings in electricity and heat, saving MDOT more than $35,000 a year and eliminating the emission of 260 tons of CO2.
Despite the client’s initial hesitation to change a system that it was comfortable with, the team’s extensive migration plan, highlighting measurable benchmarks of sustainability, cost savings and energy savings, converted MDOT into an enthusiastic advocate.
“The carbon savings are the equivalent of 65 round-trip flights from Jackson, Mississippi, to Tokyo. When we presented the energy savings, that was the ‘aha’ moment,” says Hartley. “In the end, MDOT accepted a totally new solution that is cheaper, easier to use and can expand quickly and inexpensively.”
Not Your Parents’ Roadway Engineering
The award-winning system is an essential part of MDOT’s ITS program and empowers the agency to provide traffic video easily, more affordably and with less environmental impact. “Clearly, 21st-century roadway engineering is evolving to require more than concrete and steel and traditional engineering services like the design of highways, bridges and signals,” says Ranzy. And with its successful new H.264-based video system, Mississippi has vaulted to a national leadership position in the use of technology to solve traffic problems that can cause frustration and threaten public safety.
Potential clients across the country are recognizing GS&P’s expertise in this type of project. Oregon, California and Alabama have asked about the remarkable results achieved for Mississippi. Louisiana has awarded a contract to GS&P that includes a video migration project similar to the one developed for MDOT.
The results have also gained notice within the ITS industry. The video migration project received the 2011 Best of Rural ITS Award for Best Innovative Application from the National Rural Intelligent Transportation Society.
“We showed that we could do this without disrupting current operations,” says Hartley. “The successful migration plan showed MDOT and potential future clients that we had thought of anything that might come up.”
“A lot of people are taking note,” adds Whiticker. “They are particularly interested in the team’s ‘do more with less’ approach and the careful planning that enabled us to migrate services to the new system while guaranteeing uninterrupted operation of the legacy system. It’s one thing to come up with a solution; it’s another thing to implement it and prove it works well.”