SPRINGFIELD, Ill. – The Illinois Department of Transportation finished a major construction project for its communication center last fall.
IDOT employees have worked inside the facility since October 1, but no one else has seen the upgraded space yet. The Capitol Bureau received exclusive access to the brand new state-of-the-art center Tuesday.
IDOT went nearly 30 years without significant changes to their communication center at the Springfield headquarters. Jeremey Sellers, an Operations Communications Specialist for over 18 years, says this was well worth the wait.
“The room I started in was about the size of our breakroom there. We had fax machines, two PCs, and an old tube television,” Sellers explained. “Now, we have five times as many work stations, this 40 foot video wall, and just a lot more accessibility.”
Operators can communicate with the nine IDOT district offices as well as any employees in the field. They also frequently speak with state police, county highway partners, and transportation services.
“We needed a space like this to be able to accommodate the technologies that are coming out with automated vehicles and vehicle locations, also being able to provide better real-time data to the public with the technology we have today,” said Communications Center Manager Brandon Oxley.
Staff can watch almost every IDOT camera before making calls to help teams responding to incidents or share information about impacts to travel for drivers.
“Now, I can see it. They’re emailing me, we’re hearing the radio traffic,” Sellers said. “We’re seeing it live, so I can get something out real quick. It’s definitely cool.”
$7 million project finished ahead of schedule
Department officials proposed the idea for Station One in November 2017 and quickly partnered with Motorola to improve their vision. While the General Assembly approved the proposed expansion in 2018, construction didn’t start until the summer of 2019. The project cost nearly $7 million, but Oxley said IDOT came in under the budget granted by lawmakers in record time. In fact, construction wrapped up eight months ahead of schedule.
Operators moved into the new 2,400-square-foot space on October 1, thanks to construction teams working throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Just completing a room of this size and this magnitude would have been huge on it’s own,” said IDOT Engineer of Operations Amy Eller. “You do that during a pandemic, that makes it all the more special.”
A “shell” for the future
However, the department isn’t done yet. Officials described Station One as a “shell” for them to work on future projects and implement new technology.
“We’re looking at expanding into smart work zones later on this year,” Eller explained. Other states have started to use the “smart” communication to predict delays, travel times, and real time speeds in construction zones. Eller and Oxley hope that could lead to less emergencies due to crashes.
“We have a pilot project coming so the information from that will now be able to come into this room,” Eller added. Officials plan on conducting the pilot in Litchfield.
IDOT hopes to also add advanced traffic management systems and new software for field cameras to better capture data. Oxley said the department could soon improve the way it reports weather hazards to drivers as well.
“We’ve been looking at weather stations that we have throughout the state and how those are able to report pavement temperatures to use, how we’re able to anticipate winter snow storms and what the extent of those storms will be,” Oxley explained.