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Driving You Crazy: What are those new things all along C-470?

A system to help catch drivers weaving in and out of express lanes
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Posted at 4:52 AM, Jul 25, 2023
and last updated 2023-07-25 10:24:24-04

DENVER — Michael from Denver writes, “What’s driving you crazy? This thing on C-470 west of Quebec. What are these things?”

Michael, those things are part of a new express lane enforcement system that is intended to help the Colorado Department of Transportation catch drivers who illegally zip in and out of the express lanes on C-470. You can see pictures and a video attached to this story.

Sitting on top of a metal pole that’s anchored to the median wall is a camera and solar panel. That camera is one of many above-ground cameras that watch as drivers roll along C-470 and identify the ones who weave in and out of the tolled express lanes when they aren’t supposed to. Those pole cams, along with sensors and artificial intelligence-assisted software, were set up by the company Blissway. The company said the combination of the technology make up an automatic license plate reading system that, when paired with their vehicle occupancy verification technology, will deliver “near-perfect lane enforcement and occupancy validation”. The company said the cameras can capture data from the front and rear of a vehicle and from multiple angles and locations.

Driving You Crazy: What are those new things all along C-470?

“The Blissway system is extremely, extremely effective, like no other system we have observed before,” CDOT’s Tim Hoover told me. “Yes, it can see through license plate covers, even tinted ones. Yes, it can read temporary tags. We are trying to tell people that if they think they can continue to break the law, they are going to be in for a rude surprise.”

Recently, the same Blissway camera, sensor and AI technology, already in place along the Interstate 70 mountain express lanes, was activated July 21 and is already capturing images from the cameras to identify offenders so a citation can be sent to the registered owner of the vehicle.

“We do not want to see lots of people, though they are a small minority of otherwise law-abiding, safe drivers on the express lanes, get fines,” Hoover said. “We just want people to stop driving unsafely.”

On the Blissway website, the company states, “Today’s roadside toll collection architecture consists of gantries over highways and windshield transponders in vehicles, a legacy system that is 10% software and 90% hardware.” Blissway said it flips the ratio by avoiding the use of transponder and readers for “small brainy devices at the side of the road” called Wireless Autonomous Lane Enforcers (WAL-Es), and large-scale cloud data analytics. The company said their technology can identify and track every vehicle on the road and guarantee to perform at or better than existing roadside toll collection systems.

MORE: Read more traffic issues driving people crazy

In a pitch to CDOT to test their technology, Blissway stated their major benefits include maintaining free-flow conditions 24/7 in the express lane, up to a doubling in lane capacity during rush hour, benefiting drivers in both express lanes as well as general purpose lanes and increasing average vehicle occupancy by incentivizing carpooling and public transit. On the site ycombinator, Blissway co-founder Francisco Torrealba was reported to have said, “BLISSWAY is about how to solve traffic congestion for good.” I contacted Torrealba to ask him more about the technology and how he plans to solve traffic congestion, but he refused my request to be interviewed.

The answer might lie in the patent application for Blissway’s dynamic determination of highway toll prices. Torrealba makes references several times in the application to an “automated highway reservation platform,” which he said would allow drivers to reserve a place in the express lane. “In one embodiment, the system receives, on a client device associated with a user, a travel destination and a user location. The system then determines an optimal route to the destination from the user's location, and identifies one or more highway sections that are reservable along the optimal route. The system determines a price estimate for reserving the highway sections in order for the user to travel in a vehicle along the optimal route. The system receives an acceptance of the price estimate from the client device, and then reserves the one or more highway sections for the user based on the price estimate.” How well a system like that would work and how much it would cost a user is not disclosed.

One of the ways Blissway wants to collect driver data is through your mobile phone. In a video posted to the company’s website, a simulated driver goes though the steps via text messages to verify how many passengers are in the vehicle as well as the make, model, color and license plate of the vehicle before the driver leaves for the commute. Once the driver is in the express lane and is identified by the Blissway technology, they might receive a phone call to conduct a verbal verification of the previous texted information, including a verification of how many passengers are in the vehicle. The voice prompt in the video asked all the passengers in the vehicle, including the driver, to repeat a phrase. Once the computer verifies all passengers repeated the phrase, the automated voice call hangs up. There was no demonstration or information from the company available as to what happens if the voice verification system is not satisfied. CDOT said this part of the Blissway technology is still being examined, adding they have not made any decisions about using it yet.

In a CDOT memo to the board of directors, Blissway said other transportation agencies are interested in this technology including Transportation Corridor Agencies, North Carolina Turnpike Authority, Washington State Department of Transportation, Tampa Hillsborough Expressway Authority and Riverside County Transportation Commission.

I’m told CDOT doesn’t have a firm start date for the Blissway technology to start enforcement on C-470 or any of the other metro Denver express lanes but hope to activate the system simultaneously later this summer.

Denver7 Traffic Expert Jayson Luber says he has been covering Denver-metro traffic since Ben-Hur was driving a chariot. (We believe the actual number is over 25 years.) He's obsessed with letting viewers know what's happening on their drive and the best way to avoid the problems that spring up. Follow him on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram or listen to his Driving You Crazy podcast on any odcast app including iTunes, iHeartRadio, Spotify and Podbean.