In addition to their smart phones and smart watches, commuters in Gwinnett County will soon get a “smart corridor” along one of their busiest thoroughfares.

Within the next year, workers will begin equipping 20 miles of Peachtree Industrial Boulevard with some of the same technology driving our digital gizmos — wireless communications — in order to make the roadway safer and smoother flowing for drivers and pedestrians.

It’s a groundbreaking project that will showcase how the technology can shape our communities. An earlier smart corridor was completed in 2017 along a mile and a half stretch of North Avenue in Midtown Atlanta, but the Peachtree Industrial improvements is much larger in scope and will serve as a roadmap for projects elsewhere in the region.

How Gwinnett’s ‘smart corridor’ works

A series of unobtrusive cellular antennas and short-range radio transmitters will be installed along the corridor, allowing traffic signals to exchange information with vehicles – and with each other.

For instance, the new technology can warn drivers to slow down if they can’t make it through an intersection before the light changes and even tell them when a fire truck is approaching, explains Tom Sever, Gwinnett’s Deputy Director for Traffic Engineering, Operations & Maintenance.

Traffic at an intersection on Peachtree Industrial Boulevard in Gwinnett County.
Peachtree Industrial Boulevard in Gwinnett County will be transformed into a “smart corridor” featuring wireless technology that enable traffic signals to communicate with vehicles, and with each other.

Many automakers are now producing what are known in the industry as “connected vehicles” that are equipped to receive such messages, he says, but drivers of older cars — as well as pedestrians and cyclists — can download phone apps that relay smart corridor alerts.

The information doesn’t just flow one way. The new technology will allow emergency vehicles to change traffic signals to green so they don’t need to dodge cars at intersections. Even commuter buses could manipulate signals if they get behind on their routes.

Connectedness also will enable what Sever calls “adaptive traffic signal timing.” Currently, signals are programmed according to routine traffic patterns at different times of the day, but the upgrades will let county transportation engineers make timing changes to match real-time conditions if, say, additional traffic has suddenly been diverted by a nearby road closure.

“One of the reasons we selected Peachtree Industrial Boulevard for this project is that it goes from being an urban roadway on its southern end, with an average of 45,000 vehicles a day, to a fairly rural one at the northern edge of the county, with about 12,000 cars,” Sever says. “The feedback we get will provide us with a good idea about how to proceed with many of the county’s other roads.”

Project details

The Peachtree Industrial project will cost $2.6 million, with 80 percent of the funds coming from federal sources as part of the Atlanta Regional Commission’s Regional Transportation Plan.

It includes most of Peachtree Industrial Boulevard within Gwinnett, from the intersection with Holcomb Bridge Road north to the Hall County border. The project as includes 50 signalized intersections, 12 emergency vehicles, pedestrian crossings at traffic signals, and at least two school zone flashing beacons.

Work is expected to begin in July 2019 and should be completed by the end of next year.

What’s Next ATL, produced by the Atlanta Regional Commission, is a community resource that explores how metro Atlanta is growing and changing, and how the region is addressing its most pressing challenges.