MANATEE -- When it was unveiled, it was called visionary and futuristic: A system of sensors, cameras and technology that would make driving on Interstate 75 in Manatee and Sarasota counties a smoother ride.
More than a decade later, state transportation officials are getting ready to actually build it.
The Florida Department of Transportation plans to break ground early next year on an Intelligent Transportation System, or ITS, for the 59.7-mile stretch of I-75 between Interstate 275 near Parrish and the Sarasota/Charlotte county line.
The system will include sensors embedded in the road, closed-circuit TV cameras mounted on poles, and overhead electronic signs installed at various locations, all linked by fiber-optic cable, officials said.
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Its goal: to better monitor and improve traffic flow, give drivers real-time information on traffic and weather conditions, help emergency crews respond quicker to crashes and make hurricane evacuations more orderly.
“It’s a way of improving transportation without spending a lot of money on extra lanes,” said Michael Howe, executive director of the Sarasota/Manatee Metropolitan Planning Organization.
The MPO, a board of elected officials from both counties that sets the region’s transportation priorities, is scheduled to get an update on the ITS project at its meeting Monday.
Under the system, cameras and sensors will relay real-time images and data to traffic-management centers in Manatee and Lee counties. Technicians in the Manatee center, which will be located inside the county’s emergency operations building, will monitor traffic 16 hours every weekday while the Lee center will do so on nights and weekends.
When a crash occurs, technicians can remotely control cameras to zero in on it, determine how bad it appears to be and notify emergency responders if needed. Technicians also can post warnings and detour information on the electronic signs, which also can be used for Amber/Silver alerts, storm warnings and other information, as well as issue radio advisories.
The highway system also will be connected to a traffic-signal management system that Manatee County currently is installing on major local roads. When complete, the county system will allow technicians to adjust traffic-signal cycles to improve the flow of traffic, including that detoured off the interstate.
The I-75 system is part of a $496 million, 1,600-mile statewide ITS system that FDOT is building, spokeswoman Lauren Hatchell said.
“The Intelligent Transportation System has fast become an incredible value for drivers throughout Florida and now these benefits will soon be shared with drivers in Sarasota and Manatee counties,” she wrote in an email.
The Manatee-Sarasota portion of the project is expected to cost more than $30 million to build, FDOT said. Engineering and inspection work is projected to cost another $5.6 million.
The local and statewide project is expected to be completed in 2014, Hatchell said.
That’s more than 15 years after FDOT proposed the smart-highway system.
The agency first sought bids in 1999 to install the fiber-optic network for the system, according to Bradenton Herald archives. But the program has been beset by delays and financial problems since then.
“It takes a while to not only build the infrastructure, it also takes a while to get the money,” Howe said.
Duane Marsteller, Herald staff writer, can be reached at 745-7080, ext. 2630.