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Main Roads needs to get out of slow lane

Earlier this year, I wrote about work done around the world to improve the efficiency of roads and reduce congestion.

It included an article about research under way at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh to build smarter traffic lights - signals that could gather accurate information about traffic conditions and volumes and transfer that information further down the road.

An initial trial of the system resulted in a 40 per cent improvement in traffic flow and a 30 per cent reduction in car stops.

One of its co-ordinators, Dr Stephen Smith, said a growing city like Perth "would benefit from testing and investing in new technologies like those being used in Pittsburgh".

When this was put to Main Roads WA, there was little enthusiasm for it.

But the latest RAC BusinessWise-CCI congestion survey has revealed an overwhelming number of businesses (83 per cent) want the introduction of new intelligent technology to better manage Perth's road network.

It is a call that should no longer be ignored.

Perth's traffic signal system is known as SCATS and, according to Main Roads, it is the best because it is used in 263 cities in 27 countries.

But it is a dumb, old-fashioned system.

It relies solely on sensors built into the road near the stop line and has no capacity to recognise volumes of traffic or traffic levels down the road.

With road construction getting more and more expensive, it is time to spend just a small portion of this money to investigate technologies that could make our existing road network more efficient.

Improved, smarter traffic signals should be the first focus. Redesigned suburban thoroughfares should be the second.