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Traffic demand increases are pushing aging ground transportation infrastructures to their theoretical capacity. The result of this demand is traffic bottlenecks that are a major cause of delay on urban freeways. In addition, the queues associated with those bottlenecks increase the probability of a crash while adversely affecting environmental measures such as emissions and fuel consumption. With limited resources available for network expansion, traffic professionals have developed active traffic management systems (ATMS) in an attempt to mitigate the negative consequences of traffic bottlenecks. Among these ATMS strategies, variable speed limits (VSL) and ramp metering (RM) have been gaining international interests for their potential to improve safety, mobility, and environmental measures at freeway bottlenecks.

Though previous studies have shown the tremendous potential of variable speed limit (VSL) and VSL paired with ramp metering (VSLRM) control, little guidance has been developed to assist decision makers in the planning phase of a congestion mitigation project that is considering VSL or VSLRM control. To address this need, this study has developed a comprehensive decision/deployment support tool for the application of VSL and VSLRM control in recurrently congested environments. The decision tool will assist practitioners in deciding the most appropriate control strategy at a candidate site, which candidate sites have the most potential to benefit from the suggested control strategy, and how to most effectively design the field deployment of the suggested control strategy at each implementation site. To do so, the tool is comprised of three key modules, (1) Decision Module, (2) Benefits Module, and (3) Deployment Guidelines Module. Each module uses commonly known traffic flow and geometric parameters as inputs to statistical models and empirically based procedures to provide guidance on the application of VSL and VSLRM at each candidate site. These models and procedures were developed from the outputs of simulated experiments, calibrated with field data.

To demonstrate the application of the tool, a list of real-world candidate sites were selected from the Maryland State Highway Administration Mobility Report. Here, field data from each candidate site was input into the tool to illustrate the step-by-step process required for efficient planning of VSL or VSLRM control. The output of the tool includes the suggested control system at each site, a ranking of the sites based on the expected benefit-to-cost ratio, and guidelines on how to deploy the VSL signs, ramp meters, and detectors at the deployment site(s).

This research has the potential to assist traffic engineers in the planning of VSL and VSLRM control, thus enhancing the procedure for allocating limited resources for mobility and safety improvements on highways plagued by recurrent congestion.