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This section contains frequently asked questions on a variety of topics including FAST equipment and its usage, benefits, and installation, etc. Click on any question in the following list to go to the answer.

Dynamic Message Signs

Q 1:  How do Dynamic Message Signs work?
Q 2:  How many Dynamic Message Signs are there?
Q 3:  What are Dynamic Message Signs (DMS)?
Q 4:  What are the benefits of DMS?
Q 5:  What types of messages will be displayed on the DMS? Will they be "on" all the time?
Q 6:  Why were DMS constructed on the freeways?

FAST

Q 7:  How can I contact FAST?
Q 8:  What are FAST's hours of operation?
Q 9:  What does FAST stand for?
Q 10:  What is FAST's mailing address?
Q 11:  What is the location of the Traffic Management Center? How can I get there?
Q 12:  What is the Traffic Management Center (TMC)?

Ramp Meters

Q 13:  How do ramp meters - or signals - at freeway on-ramps improve traffic flow?
Q 14:  How do you know ramp meters save time?
Q 15:  Is installing meters expensive?
Q 16:  New freeway ramp meters and carpool lanes will be installed on U.S. 95 and other areas of the Las Vegas Valley. Why is this happening and why do we need to have traffic flow "managed"?
Q 17:  There are separate, unmetered HOV bypass lanes at some ramps such as Lake Mead Boulevard and Cheyenne Avenue. Why do we need HOV lanes?
Q 18:  What about the impact of ramp metering on adjacent city streets? Doesn't this program create severe local congestion?
Q 19:  What about the people who violate the metered on-ramp or HOV bypass lanes?
Q 20:  What is the waiting time on the metered ramps?
Q 21:  Why are some ramp meters operating while others are turned off? Are there different metering hours?
Q 22:  Why are there different time cycles at ramp meters?
Q 23:  Why do you claim that ramp metering is safer?
Q 24:  Why should the two or more passengers vehicles have such preferential treatment at metered on-ramps with HOV bypass lanes? Doesn't that discriminate against those of us who can't rideshare for one reason or another?
Q 25:  Will all meters be operated the same way? It seems as if there are different kinds in use on different ramps.
Q 26:  With all the concerns about energy usage and air quality, it would seem to be very wasteful and polluting to have all these cars just sitting on the on-ramps. Is this true?
Q 27:  Won't congestion continue to increase during rush hours, and at locations where these new meters are supposed to help traffic flow faster?

Traffic Cameras

Q 28:  Are any of the FAST cameras used for traffic enforcement?
Q 29:  What are emergency vehicle detectors? Are they cameras?
Q 30:  What are incident management cameras?
Q 31:  What is the difference between traffic detection and incident management?

Traffic Signals

Q 32:  How are signal timing and traffic signal cycles determined?
Q 33:  How can I report a problem with a traffic signal?
Q 34:  How many traffic signals are currently installed in the Las Vegas Valley? How many are on the FAST network?

Dynamic Message Signs

Q 1:  How do Dynamic Message Signs work?

A 1:  The DMS are or will be connected to the FAST Traffic Management Center (TMC) through a fiber optic communications network. Operators at the TMC are (will be) able to place messages on the DMS to alert drivers of an incident ahead, ramp or lane restrictions, upcoming construction, and other important information about current or future freeway conditions. Messages will be routed from the operator workstations at the TMC through the communications systems and illuminated on the DMS.

Q 2:  How many Dynamic Message Signs are there?

A 2:  There are currently 20 Dynamic Message Signs throughout Southern Nevada used to relay real-time information to motorists. For current DMS locations and active messages (if any), visit the Message Signs page.

Q 3:  What are Dynamic Message Signs (DMS)?

A 3:  DMS are electronic sign boards used to display information. You may have seen a DMS used in store displays, at sporting events, or even construction sites. Portable DMS are commonly used along the roadways and construction sites to provide information about any lane restrictions or closures. The newly constructed DMS on the freeways are permanent overhead structures on specially designed truss structures as shown in the photo to the right.

Q 4:  What are the benefits of DMS?

A 4:  By providing accurate and timely information, some motorists may decide to exit the freeway and use an alternate route for travel based on freeway conditions such as an incident or upcoming lane restriction or closure. These commuters benefit because the selected route will most likely get them to their destination faster than staying on the freeway. Those commuters that remain on the freeway will benefit from the reduction of congestion due to the diverted traffic. Overall, the DMS will benefit everyone by maximizing the efficiency of the existing transportation network resulting in more consistent speeds and travel times, reduced air pollution, and reduced driver frustration.

Q 5:  What types of messages will be displayed on the DMS? Will they be "on" all the time?

A 5:  DMS will provide advisory information to drivers about incidents, events, construction and maintenance activities, and road closures that affect the freeways. In the future, other types of information might be displayed, such as freeway travel times to certain locations. DMS will display pre-set messages stored in the system as well as specific messages based on current conditions. Operators at the Transportation Management Center will activate these messages on specific signs depending on the location or conditions. If there are no specific messages about freeway conditions to be displayed on the DMS, the signs will be blank.

Q 6:  Why were DMS constructed on the freeways?

A 6:  As the valley's freeway network is completed and reaching capacity, alternative traffic management tools become a vital option to optimize capacity and improve conditions of the roadways. DMS are integral parts of regional traveler information and incident management systems. The purpose of DMS is to provide accurate traveler advisory information to drivers while they are on the road including real-time freeway conditions or information about upcoming construction activity or closures. This communication will allow motorists to make informed decisions while en-route. For example, you are traveling southbound on US-95 and have just passed Jones Boulevard. The freeway speeds are slowing and soon traffic is bumper to bumper. Traffic is creeping slowly and considerable time has been added to your commute. A message on the DMS alerts you that there is an incident ahead, which allows you to make a decision whether or not to get off of the freeway at the next exit or remain on the freeway. DMS have been strategically placed on the freeways in order to provide information to motorists in advance of exit points and interchanges to enable them to make route choices or diversions before known congestion or incident areas.

FAST

Q 7:  How can I contact FAST?

A 7:  You can contact FAST by phone (702-432-5300), email (askfast@rtcsnv.com) or in writing (FAST, 4615 W Sunset Rd, Las Vegas NV 89118).

Q 8:  What are FAST's hours of operation?

A 8:  FAST has staff available Monday through Friday from 5:00 am until 11:00 pm, Saturday from 8:00 am until 5:30 pm, and Sunday from 8:30 am until 5:30 pm.

Q 9:  What does FAST stand for?

A 9:  FAST stands for Freeway and Arterial System of Transportation.

Q 10:  What is FAST's mailing address?

A 10:  FAST
4615 W Sunset Rd
Las Vegas NV 89118

Q 11:  What is the location of the Traffic Management Center? How can I get there?

A 11:  TMC is located at 4615 West Sunset Road in Las Vegas, Nevada. To reach the TMC:
From 215: take the Decatur Blvd exit. Head North on Decatur, turn right on Sunset.
From most surface streets: go South on Decatur Blvd. Turn left on Sunset.
TMC is the first building on the right.

Q 12:  What is the Traffic Management Center (TMC)?

A 12:  The Traffic Management Center, which opened in summer 2005, is a 70,000-square-foot building that houses FAST and the Nevada Highway Patrol Southern Command Headquarters. Approximately 16,000 square feet are dedicated to FAST operations including: 40-monitor video wall, 4,000-square-foot Control Center and media room.

FAST operates and maintains its personnel and equipment at the TMC for traffic monitoring, incident management, road condition reporting, traveler information dissemination and advisory communication.

Ramp Meters

Q 13:  How do ramp meters - or signals - at freeway on-ramps improve traffic flow?

A 13:  Without ramp meters, many cars try to merge on to the freeway at once. Drivers on the freeway slow down to let the cars enter, and these slower speeds quickly cause backups. If cars enter the freeway in a spaced, controlled manner, they merge easier and with less disruption to mainline traffic. A short wait on the ramp allows drivers to increase their average freeway speed and shorten freeway travel times. By regulating the flow of traffic entering the freeways during peak traffic hours, the overall flow of traffic on the freeways will be smoother. This regulated flow means we can accommodate more vehicles per hour on the freeways, improve commute times, and provide a higher degree of safety.

Q 14:  How do you know ramp meters save time?

A 14:  Over the years, every ramp metering project in the United States has been subjected to exhaustive "before and after" tests using electronic counters, in-pavement sensors, computer studies, and even photography. Systems with ramp meters in place show that average speeds on the mainline freeways do increase, and sometimes rather substantially.

Q 15:  Is installing meters expensive?

A 15:  In terms of return on investment, no, because the accumulated savings to users yields dividends far beyond the minimal costs involved.

Q 16:  New freeway ramp meters and carpool lanes will be installed on U.S. 95 and other areas of the Las Vegas Valley. Why is this happening and why do we need to have traffic flow "managed"?

A 16:  Overall, ramp meters and carpool lanes (known as High Occupancy Vehicle, or HOV lanes) are important traffic management techniques designed to keep traffic flowing on the freeways and help to reduce accidents. With traffic congestion constantly increasing, sound management of the region's transportation system is a must.

Q 17:  There are separate, unmetered HOV bypass lanes at some ramps such as Lake Mead Boulevard and Cheyenne Avenue. Why do we need HOV lanes?

A 17:  Some metered ramps also will feature an HOV bypass lane. The purpose of this special lane is to provide a faster access for vehicles with two or more persons. This encourages ridesharing by providing a special benefit for those who carpool, vanpool, or ride the bus. The more people carpool, the fewer cars there are on the road and the better it is for everyone.

Q 18:  What about the impact of ramp metering on adjacent city streets? Doesn't this program create severe local congestion?

A 18:  There are two issues here. The first is a back-up of traffic waiting to enter at an on-ramp, and the second is the possibility of increased general traffic diverted to surface streets. There is often a bit of confusion during the first few days of all metering projects, which does cause a bit more traffic congestion near the ramps. As commuters become accustomed to the meters and adjust their travel patterns, this temporary congestion disappears. In cases where traffic continues to back up on the ramp, most problems can be handled by adjusting the metering signal timing. FAST will closely monitor each meter as it is brought on-line and make adjustments as needed. Studies in other cities where ramp meters were installed show that in those cases where traffic has increased on city streets, the volume has not been significant enough to impact the operation of these streets. Sometimes the addition of meters coincides with widening of the freeway itself, which increases the capacity and eliminates the "bottlenecks", thus easing the traffic flow on nearby surface streets.

Q 19:  What about the people who violate the metered on-ramp or HOV bypass lanes?

A 19:  A red light is a red light, and everyone understands that red means stop and green means go. Generally, most problems will occur at the HOV bypass lanes. Usually this happens when a single occupant auto gets into the carpool lane to avoid waiting. The Nevada Highway Patrol will be responsible for enforcing the ramp meters and HOV bypass lanes.

Q 20:  What is the waiting time on the metered ramps?

A 20:  Waiting time will vary depending upon how many cars are ahead of you on the ramp. In the slowest situation - a thirteen-second red and a two-second green cycle - four cars each minute would be allowed to enter on a specific lane; in the fastest situation, fifteen cars each minute could enter, double the times for a two lane ramp. For those traveling a good distance on one or more freeways, the time spent on the ramp is gained back - and more - with faster speeds on the freeway itself. Depending on the location and time of day, if someone is only traveling a short distance during the commute period, it might be just as fast (or faster) to go by surface street. Also, some metered on-ramps will be used less frequently than others, and the wait will be shorter at those locations.

Q 21:  Why are some ramp meters operating while others are turned off? Are there different metering hours?

A 21:  The purpose of ramp meters is to help regulate freeway traffic flow and merging during periods of intense use. Ramp meters in Las Vegas in the future will be "demand responsive" - that is, the meters will turn on and the metering cycles will be based on traffic flow. What this means is that meters will typically operate during periods of heavy traffic, such as weekday morning and afternoon commute hours. Now, ramp meters operate on a fixed schedule, during the morning and evening rush hours. Ramp meters also may be activated during the "off" hours in the event of an incident on the freeway or for special event traffic.

Q 22:  Why are there different time cycles at ramp meters?

A 22:  The red-green cycles will vary from ramp to ramp. The green light will typically be on for two to four seconds, and the red light may vary anywhere from two to thirty seconds depending upon traffic flow conditions. These timings will be set based on past traffic experience, but will be adjusted depending on current or future conditions. Because the ramp meters will be "traffic responsive", the red-green cycles will be controlled by traffic at that moment. Radar detectors or sensors in the pavement indicate how heavy traffic volumes are on the freeways. Lighter volumes would send a signal to the ramp meter controller to "tell" the meter to speed up the red-green cycles to let more cars on the freeway. Similarly, if the signals detect heavier traffic on the freeways, the red-green cycles would be adjusted to space out merging traffic at a safer rate.

Q 23:  Why do you claim that ramp metering is safer?

A 23:  Generally speaking, freeway accidents have been measurably reduced according to before and after studies. The Minnesota Department of Transportation conducted a study of freeway conditions with their ramp meters turned off. All 430 ramp meters in the Minneapolis/St. Paul metro area were turned off for six weeks in the fall of 2000, and the results show a definite safety benefit in favor of ramp meters. With the ramp meters turned off, there was a 26 per cent increase in crashes - rear-end crashes were up by almost 15 per cent, "run off the road" crashes increased by 60 per cent, and sideswipe crashes were up 200 per cent. Research shows that most freeway accidents occur during stop-and-go traffic conditions by inattentive drivers. Ramp metering provides a smoother flow of traffic, which minimizes the problem.

Q 24:  Why should the two or more passengers vehicles have such preferential treatment at metered on-ramps with HOV bypass lanes? Doesn't that discriminate against those of us who can't rideshare for one reason or another?

A 24:  The HOV lane helps every freeway user. Everyone's objective is to get on the freeway as quickly as possible. If you're driving alone and two of the five cars ahead of you are carpools, you would just as soon get them out of the way -- in the HOV lane. Then you would only have three ahead of you. That means faster travel time for everyone.

Q 25:  Will all meters be operated the same way? It seems as if there are different kinds in use on different ramps.

A 25:  Yes, all ramp meters in Las Vegas will essentially operate the same way. Because of different ramp characteristics, there may be some slight modifications at specific ramps so that the meters can be the most effective for actual traffic conditions at a particular location. All metered ramps will have a sign at the entrance letting drivers know if the meters are turned on or not. There will be a signal at the end of the ramp as well as a stop bar on the pavement, and signs providing any special directions. Some ramps will have HOV bypass lanes, which means that cars with two or more people will not need to stop for the red meter light. Whenever you use any metered on-ramp, there are two basic things to remember: Meters at on-ramps work like all traffic lights: red means stop and green means go. Special instructions will always appear directly at the signal light itself and on other ramp signs.

Q 26:  With all the concerns about energy usage and air quality, it would seem to be very wasteful and polluting to have all these cars just sitting on the on-ramps. Is this true?

A 26:  No, it's not. Energy and air quality are somewhat improved by maintaining faster freeway flow. While vehicles obviously burn some gas while waiting on a metered ramp, the average speed is increased on the freeway itself. The incidence of stop-and-go driving is reduced on the freeway, and this is what really burns up most of the gasoline. In terms of air quality, environmental experts have concluded that ramp meter programs slightly reduce the quantities of nitrous oxide, carbon monoxide, and reactive hydrocarbons - the pollutants in smog. Again, this is a trade-off: while there might not be any measurable differences on the on-ramps themselves, with decreased freeway stop-and-go driving and smoother flow, the overall air quality actually improves.

Q 27:  Won't congestion continue to increase during rush hours, and at locations where these new meters are supposed to help traffic flow faster?

A 27:  Overall, congestion in Las Vegas will constantly grow, but the type of congestion referred to is known as "bottlenecking". Whenever traffic enters a freeway - and then shifts left from lane to lane - it creates a slowing pattern behind that entrance zone. This is true with or without meters. Ramp meters help to space the entrance of cars onto the freeway at a steady and safer rate, even though freeway lanes might already be congested.

Traffic Cameras

Q 28:  Are any of the FAST cameras used for traffic enforcement?

A 28:  There has recently been a lot of interest in using cameras to automatically enforce traffic laws around the country. Many agencies around the country are using cameras to automatically generate tickets for drivers that run red lights.

Automatic red light running enforcement uses high resolution still cameras along with sophisticated electronic equipment that senses if a vehicle enters the intersection after the light has turned red. The cameras then take pictures of the vehicle's license plate and the signal displays. They automatically generate tickets that are sent to the owner of the vehicle. Studies of these systems indicate that they significantly reduce red light running, reduce the number of accidents, and improve safety.

While there has been a lot of interest in testing these systems in the state of Nevada, the use of enforcement cameras is not legal under the Nevada Revised Statutes (NRS 484A.600).

Enforcement cameras are not currently used in Southern Nevada.

Q 29:  What are emergency vehicle detectors? Are they cameras?

A 29:  Emergency vehicle detectors are often mistaken for cameras, because they look similar. However, these are not cameras, but are special electronic devices that are used to detect the presence of emergency response vehicles such as fire trucks, paramedics and police vehicles.

These detectors are usually attached to the top of the signal housings. They sense specialized light emitted from emergency vehicles when they are responding to an emergency.

Once an emergency vehicle is detected, the detector sends a signal to the intersection control equipment. When this happens, the signals for any conflicting vehicles are turned to yellow and then red. Then the signals that serve the emergency vehicle are changed to green. This reduces response times for emergency vehicles and may reduce accidents by stopping other vehicles when emergency vehicles are passing through an intersection.

Q 30:  What are incident management cameras?

A 30:  Incident Management Cameras (IMCs) were installed to assist in responding to reported incidents more effectively and efficiently while modifying traffic signal timing remotely and in real-time.

The cameras produce images to monitor and view queue lengths of traffic resulting from unknown conditions at signalized locations, freeway facilities and high volume mid-block settings.

There are a total of 49 IMCs throughout the Valley. Of those, 12 are for freeway assistance, and the remaining 37 are for arterial assistance. In early 2007, an additional 13 cameras along the I-15 southern corridor should be operational. Another 30 arterial cameras will be installed in the near future.

Q 31:  What is the difference between traffic detection and incident management?

A 31:  In-street wires and video image detection are used to cycle traffic at intersections based on demand. This process, combined with signal coordination efforts, helps traffic move as smoothly as possible.

Each entity (i.e. city, county, etc.) maintains the physical equipment and power for traffic signals while FAST is responsible for timing, traffic signal synchronization and the communication network.

None of the camera equipment is used to monitor driver behavior or for law enforcement activities.

Traffic Signals

Q 32:  How are signal timing and traffic signal cycles determined?

A 32:  Timing adjustments have been completed for early mornings, middays, evenings and weekends for nearly 40 corridors in the region, including the Downtown City of Las Vegas grid and portions of Las Vegas Boulevard, Flamingo, Tropicana, Eastern and Boulder Highway.

Retiming along several corridors has resulted in improvements in delay time and travel speed. Retiming to date has yielded a 5 percent benefit in the core of the Valley, which is significant considering the benefit is multiplied by thousands of vehicles per hour.

Q 33:  How can I report a problem with a traffic signal?

A 33:  You can report a problem by calling 432-5300. Based on your description, FAST staff fills out a complaint form which is forwarded to FAST's traffic signal technicians who will verify the report and take necessary actions to rectify the problem.

Q 34:  How many traffic signals are currently installed in the Las Vegas Valley? How many are on the FAST network?

A 34:  There are approximately 1,200 traffic signals in the Las Vegas Valley, and about 1000 of those are "on the network" and able to be remotely controlled. More are coming online regularly as FAST works with area agencies to install fiber optics and new or upgraded signal controllers across the Valley. In addition, FAST is working to upgrade older and obsolete traffic signal controllers to provide better timing throughout the Valley.


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