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RFID Readers Installed at U.S.-Mexican Bridges to Help Ease Traffic Congestion

To better measure traffic flow, the Texas Transportation Institute and private R&D organization Battelle have installed a system that reads government-issued passive UHF tags attached to the windshields of northbound commercial traffic.
By Claire Swedberg
The resulting data indicates the wait times (from the "worst-case scenario" point in Mexico- to CBP's primary inspection site), as well as crossing times (from the "worst-case scenario" point in Mexico to the state safety-inspection facility's exit). The information collected will enable agencies to consider implementing lane changes (such as adding or removing lanes), or manned inspection booths. In the future, real-time and historical data is expected to be made available on Web sites, to help agencies inform shippers and logistics companies of the best time to travel, though the exact date when this will occur has yet to be determined.

The system has been operational for two years. During that time, TTI has been providing reports to CBP and the Texas DPS based on read data. The agencies intend to provide the data via Web sites, and to use that information to determine ways to improve traffic based on those reading (such as installing new lanes).

Since the BOTA installation, TTI has deployed the system on the Pharr-Reynosa International Bridge in October 2009. TTI's team has also deployed similar RFID-based systems earlier this year, at the World Trade Bridge, in Laredo (the busiest commercial land port of entry on the southern U.S. border), and at the Camino Colombia Bridge border crossing, also in the Laredo area. Additionally, about two weeks ago, TTI and Battelle completed the installation of the same system at the Veterans Memorial Bridge. in Brownsville, Texas. All five Texas projects are under contract with the Texas DOT.

The anonymous RFID data, stored on the TTI server, provides the Texas DOT and other agencies—such as the FHWA, the CBP, the Texas DPS and Mexican inspection agencies—with congestion reports that all agencies can use to provide traffic-delay information to the public, as well as monitor border-crossing performance for the purpose of planning and operations. In addition, the research team is preparing its own Web site that trucking companies, shippers and members of the public can log onto in order to access real-time congestion data, as well as reports containing historical information, such as the busiest and least busy times of day or days of the week. The team will operate the Web site, Rajbhandari says; access by other parties will initially be free, he notes, though it could eventually be made available to shipping and trucking companies for a fee.

TTI and Battelle are currently in the process of installing a similar system at the Mariposa Port of Entry, in Arizona, to track the movement of commercial vehicles (mostly loaded with agricultural products) into that state from Mexico. This project is being carried out in collaboration with ADOT. As the Mariposa Port of Entry facilities undergo a complete makeover, Battelle and TTI are helping to establish a solution that will provide information pertaining to border travel times.

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