COLUMBUS — Drivers dodging orange barrels and heavy congestion as they travel from parades to family barbecues to fireworks during the Independence Day weekend will get an assist from an expanded "nerve center" of statewide traffic management.
The Ohio Department of Transportation recently moved its team of monitors into a larger traffic management center at its headquarters, where they control more than 700 cameras on highways in metro and rural areas across the state.
Those cameras will help monitors keep an eye on 1.9 million Ohioans the AAA auto club expects to drive the state's roads between Wednesday and Sunday. That's about 88,000 more people on the road than over the same holiday weekend in 2018.
Drivers apparently will be undeterred by the 10.5-cent increase in the gas tax that took effect Monday, in part because gas is still cheaper today than it was a year ago. Even with the higher gas tax, the average price of a gallon of regular gasoline in Akron on Tuesday was about $2.67 a gallon compared with $2.66 a year ago, according to AAA.
"Most people have already made their holiday plans, so they're going to go out and they're going to enjoy it," said Kimberly Schwind, AAA spokeswoman. "The reason we're seeing an increase in travel is the economy ... People have more disposable income and so they're more confident in the economy and so they're spending that money on things like travel."
State Highway Patrol troopers will be on the lookout for impaired drivers over the weekend, said Lt. Robert Sellers, patrol spokesman. Sellers recommended calling #677 if you suspect a drunk driver is on the road. The number will geolocate and ring to the nearest highway patrol post.
ODOT will try to make travel easier for drivers this weekend by pulling up orange barrels and opening lanes in some work zones, spokesman Matt Bruning said. But in some of its heaviest construction zones, that won't be possible.
Bruning said the previous traffic management center had become cramped. The new one has a dozen stations, up from 10 in the previous one, and ODOT is working to hire additional monitors so that each station has a staff member. Under existing staff levels, some monitors are handling multiple metro areas at the same time, he said.
When a monitor sees a problem, he or she can dispatch ODOT's freeway patrol to help move disabled vehicles or detour traffic around obstructions.
"As the role of this center changes and morphs from just monitoring traffic to managing traffic, that's where really the need for the expansion came," Bruning said.
Internet users can view real-time statewide traffic data and live cameras at the department's website, www.ohgo.com.