For drivers cruising along 66th Street, Park Boulevard and Bryan Dairy Road, slow and steady might win the race to beat red lights soon.
Pinellas County is considering variable speed limit signs that can gauge traffic and post an optimal speed so drivers might be able to hit more lights on green, county traffic engineering section manager Ken Jacobs said.
For example, if the posted speed limit is 45 mph, the Advanced Traffic Management System may suggest traveling at 35 mph to avoid stops at traffic lights. Those who do not drive at the suggested speed will not be penalized with a traffic ticket.
"(The signs) will be similar to some that will shoot your speed as you drive through a school zone," Jacobs explained. "It doesn't measure your speed, but it's the same type of sign."
The system is the first of its kind in the Tampa Bay area, said Florida Department of Transportation spokeswoman Kris Carson, and may be the first in the state.
The system's technology is similar to the electronic message and travel time billboards above Interstate 275. Loop sensors underground calculate the average speed of the drivers when they pass certain points on the road.
Each sign setup costs taxpayers about $3,000, and the project, called Smart Tracs, is funded by a 1-cent gas tax that was approved in 2007 and grant money from the Department of Transportation. Each road has its own budget of about $4 million for all signal work and fiber communications, including three signs in each direction.
Although no official plans have been made, potential test projects include 66th Street, Park Boulevard and Bryan Dairy Road.
The technology is in the design process, and construction is set to begin next year as part of the first phase of the project.
Travel time signs, which will include the calculation of the delay at traffic signals, will be installed first, followed by the advisory speed limit posts.
Other roads under consideration for later phases of the project are State Road 580, Belcher Road and East and West Bay Drive. Plans for U.S. 19 are also in the works. Eleven advisory speed posts will join the five overhead message boards already installed along McMullen Booth Road. All roadways in the Smart Tracs project, 25 in total, are expected to be complete in 2018.
Before expanding to other roads, the department will conduct studies to measure the benefits.
"We're just not sure if there will be a lot of driver adherence when they see the signs," Jacobs said.
Timing is everything, said Pei-Sung Lin, program director of ITS, Traffic Operations and Safety at the University of South Florida's Center for Urban Transportation Research.
He said drivers' compliance relies on how accurate the advisory speed is. The system could be trial-and-error for drivers; if the timing of the system is correct, drivers will trust the suggestion.
"If the speed on the sign is accurate, more people will follow that," he said.
Pinellas Park resident Linda Ruble doesn't think there's a great need for the signs on her daily commute to work down 66th Street, but she said it might be a blessing on U.S. 19.
"There's a bazillion lights there, and they are really difficult to time," said Ruble, 62.
She said she'd follow the signs' advisory speeds.
"At the end of the day, you're not really gaining any time by speeding along and waiting at a light anyway. It's more fuel-efficient."
Colleen Wright can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8313. You can follow her on Twitter @Colleen_Wright.