TCNJ Magazine Fall 2019

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31 FALL 2019 Jersey generates about 20% of all tolls in the U.S. Choosing a local, free road, called a "shunpike," lets you evade the toll. challenge that includes finding an extremely long-living battery. Success, he says, could eventually lead to embedding sensors in roadbeds to monitor vibrations, which could be helpful in letting government agencies know in advance when a bridge has degraded to the point of needing repairs or replacement. But as his students wrap up their 2019 MUSE project, Bren- nan's got a week to jam on a paper summarizing it, in time for pre- sentation at the Transportation Research Board's annual meeting in Washington, D.C., where it's been pre-accepted. It carries the traffic-stopping title "Evaluating Regional Traffic Congestion and System Resiliency: A Case Study Using Big Data from Traffic Mes- sage Channels." Data, says Brennan, paraphras- ing a former New Jersey transpor- tation official, "is the new asphalt" in the transportation field, by which he means it's big, hard to manage, and utterly necessary. Still, despite a proliferation of new technologies to gather ever more data, he requires his students to perform the rudimentary function of standing along a roadside to count cars. "Yeah, it's stupid, and there are ways to do this automat- ically," he says. "But it's the first step to understanding what you have out there." For engineering major Villa- verde, building the database was accompanied by an awareness that, as Jersey guys who travel the roads they were studying, he and the Dinger brothers would likely have been pings in the thousands of "traffic message channels" they sorted. "It's crazy, but I'm probably in this data set a couple of times," he says. "It's like, somewhere I drove past one of those, and one of those speed readings is me. We're all probably in there." Whether they'll still be in there as drivers in another generation remains to be answered. Villaverde is confident that wide- spread adoption of driverless vehicles will occur in his lifetime. Brennan, 45 years old, is dubious it'll happen in his. Meantime, this summer's research project can be supplemented over time, with accident reports, rail and airport delays, and other variables so that, maybe someday not too far in the future, when the news announcer says it's time to check in on traffic and the weather, both will be in the form of forecasts. One thing Brennan is sure of, though, is that while the role of traffic engineers will change, the demand for them will never vanish. "There's always a traffic cone," he says. "The economy can go to crap, but you still have to repair the roads, you still have to keep people moving. And there's always an engineer behind these things." ■ John T. Ward is a freelance writer based in Red Bank, New Jersey.

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