In 2016, the Texas Department of Transportation commenced an important project to expand the SH288 interstate highway from US Route 59 to the Harris County line in Clear Creek with express and general-purpose lanes.

With more than 30 years of experience in the tolling sector, SICE was contracted to design, supply, test, install and commission the project’s open road tolling solution and intelligent transportation system (ITS). In November 2020, the team successfully delivered the solutions on time, along with a new Toll Competence Center for supporting the project.

The 10.3-mile section includes four tolled lanes and three major interchanges: Beltway 8, with eight direct connector/ramp bridges; Loop 610, with eight direct connector/ramp bridges; and the Texas Medical Center, with two direct connector/ramp bridges.

Now operational, the expanded section and new toll lanes have provided additional capacity, improved access and reduced travel times to the Texas Medical Center and downtown Houston. More than just financing the construction, SICE’s solutions control the section’s traffic flow through dynamic rates, enhancing the operational efficiency of this key traffic area in the state’s most populous city.

SICE Toll Competence Center in North America

In order to deliver the project, SICE decided to create a Toll Competence Center in North America, a new complete division that helped ensure the successful delivery of the SH288 toll lanes and that now plays a key role in the delivery, operations and maintenance of SICE’s other American projects.

“The Toll Competence Center is one division that we created here in Houston for the project but now it is supporting all our different tolling projects in America,” Mr Salvador Castromil, executive vice-president of SICE (USA) says. “It was a key part of the project because it’s a group of engineers that know our solution very well, including all the configuration and calibration needs of the toll. They were able to make a seamless installation and adapt the system to the needs of America.

“Those engineers performed a very comprehensive test of our solution. We tested the solution with thousands of vehicles in the roadside equipment, and in our back office, we tested with over ten times the expected traffic. It was a significant effort from our team, and the exercise wouldn’t have been possible without the Toll Competence Center. Now, it supports the maintenance of the 288 and all of the other projects that we are building and executing here in America.”

Intelligent transportation system

SICE also supplied the ITS for the SH288. The solution features more than 50 microwave vehicle detection systems (MVDS), 45 CCTV cameras, 11 Bluetooth devices, 10 variable message signs (VMS) and the traffic management centre (TMC), as well as integration with the TxDOT’s TMC.

These features have helped improve journeys for Houstonians.

“We tested the solution with thousands of vehicles in the roadside equipment, and in our back office we tested with over ten times the expected traffic.”

“First of all, the CCTV cameras allow the continuous surveillance of the highway,” explains Mr Castromil with regards to safety. “The ITS also provides the customers with travel times because we have installed Bluetooth readers that calculate the estimated travel time from one destination to another.

“We also installed a lot of panels that provide the drivers with the relevant information to improve their journeys and make them aware of any potential issues that may be happening a few miles away from where they are driving. Besides, we have installed radar detectors that give us the estimation of the speeds of the vehicles and the kind of vehicles that are driving the highway, and that allows us to calculate all the dynamic pricing for the toll.”

SICE has 100 years of experience in delivering smart infrastructure and cutting-edge technology solutions for a range of transformative road projects, making the company a strategic partner for both public and private organisations around the world.

When asked what he thinks made SICE the right technological partner for the SH288 Tolling Lanes Project, Mr Castromil says: “We are a very client-focused company. We have a solution, but we do not force our client to adapt to our solution; we adapt our solution to the client.

“Another reason is our testing culture, which for me was one of the key successes of the project. We do thousands of test cases and you cannot imagine the amount of testing we perform over the system to make sure that it is fully operational and with minimal or no errors. I would say that those are two of the many factors that made us the right partner for this project.”

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