January 11, 2013
Travelers who stop at the Elm Creek rest area off of Interstate 94 two miles northwest of the intersection of I-94 and I-494 may notice cameras in the parking lot. The cameras are part of a research project conducted by the Minnesota Department of Transportation. The cameras, which will be activated in January and tested through April 2013, will check the availability of parking for truckers. The project will test whether this information improves truck drivers' ability to find parking and reduce driver fatigue. After the testing phase, the system will notify truck drivers and freight carriers of space through a website, in-cab messaging and changeable message signs along I-94. "Real-time information about the availability of space is critical to truckers who need to determine if they should pull off at the current stop or continue to the next location," said John Tompkins, MnDOT's freight project manager. "The information could help drivers make trip decisions that will improve their safety." Federal rules require truck drivers to stop and rest after 11 hours of driving. The project uses a network of automated cameras and wireless servers to check truck stops and public rest areas along the I-94 corridor for available truck parking spaces and relay this information in real time to truck drivers. To distribute the information, the system creates sophisticated GPS "buffers" around both parking facilities and moving trucks. When a truck approaches a digitized buffer at 20-, 10-, 5- or 1-mile points, the driver receives a notification indicating how many spaces are available at each upcoming parking facility. This particular system ensures that drivers are not in violation of the new federal ban on texting and cell phone use. The cameras only identify empty parking spaces. Testing at the Elm Creek Rest Area will continue through April 2013. Starting in spring 2013, MnDOT also will install and test cameras at Big Spunk Lake Rest Area (1.5 miles west of Avon interchange), Lake Latoka Rest Area (one mile northwest of junction with Highway 27), Pilot Travel Center (exit 100) near Alexandria. Research will be complete by the end of 2013. Funding for the project includes $2.1 million from the Federal Highway Administration and $227,000 from MnDOT.