First Advisor

Christopher Monsere

Date of Publication

Spring 5-18-2015

Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Science (M.S.) in Civil & Environmental Engineering


Civil and Environmental Engineering




Variable speed limits -- Oregon -- Evaluation, Roads -- Oregon -- Speed -- Evaluation, Electronic traffic controls -- Evaluation, Traffic congestion -- Management -- Oregon -- Evaluation, Traffic flow -- Oregon -- Management -- Evaluation, Automobile driving in bad weather -- Safety measures -- Evaluation, Traffic accidents -- Oregon -- Evaluation, Traffic safety -- Oregon -- Evaluation, Travel time (Traffic engineering) -- Oregon -- Evaluation



Physical Description

1 online resource (xii, 192 pages)


Safety and congestion are ever present and increasingly severe transportation problems in urban areas throughout the nation and world. These phenomena can have wide-ranging consequences relating to safety, the economy, and the environment. Adverse weather conditions represent another significant challenge to safety and mobility on highways. Oregon is not immune from either of these global issues. Oregon Route (OR) 217, to the southwest of the downtown Portland, is one of the worst freeways for congestion in the state and is also subject to the Pacific Northwest's frequently inclement and unpredictable climate. High crash rates, severe recurrent bottlenecks and highly unreliable travel times continuously plague the corridor, making it a major headache for the thousands of commuters using it every day.

In an effort to more effectively combat both congestion and adverse weather, transportation officials all over the world have been turning to increasingly technological strategies like Active Traffic Management (ATM). This can come in many forms, but among the most common are variable speed limit (VSL) systems which use real-time data to compute and display appropriate reduced speeds during congestion and/or adverse weather. After numerous studies and deliberations, Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT) selected Oregon Route (OR) 217 as one of the first locations in the state to be implemented with an advisory VSL system, and that system began operation in the summer of 2014. This thesis seeks to evaluate the effectiveness of this VSL system through the first eight months of its operation through an in-depth and wide-ranging "before and after" analysis.

Analysis of traffic flow and safety data for OR 217 from before the VSL system was implemented made clear some of the most prevalent issues which convinced ODOT to pursue VSL. Using those issues as a basis, a framework of seven specific evaluation questions relating to both performance and safety, as well as both congestion and adverse weather, was established to guide the "before and after" comparisons. Hypotheses, and measures of effectiveness for each question were developed, and data were obtained from a diverse array of sources including freeway detectors, ODOT's incident database, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

The results of the various "before and after" comparisons performed as a part of this thesis indicate that conditions have changed on OR 217 in a number of ways since the VSL system was activated. Many, but not all, of the findings were consistent with the initial hypotheses and with the findings from other VSL studies in the literature. Certain locations along the corridor have seen significant declines in speed variability, supporting the common notion that VSL systems have a harmonizing effect on traffic flow. Crash rates have not decreased, but crashes have become less frequent in the immediate vicinity of VSL signs. Flow distribution between adjacent lanes has been more even since VSL implementation during midday hours and the evening peak, and travel time reliability has seen widespread improvement in three of the corridor's four primary travel lanes during those same times. The drops in flow that generally occur upstream of bottlenecks once they form have had diminished magnitudes, while the drops in flow downstream of the same bottlenecks have grown. Finally, the increase in travel times that is usually brought about by adverse weather has been smaller since VSL implementation, while the decline in travel time reliability has largely disappeared.


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