Traffic Q&A: Ramp meters soon will turn on, off automatically based on real-time conditions

Question: I get on eastbound state Route 16 at Orchard Street almost every day, at almost the exact same time. Sometimes the onramp is metered and sometimes it is not.

Why would the meter be on at 8:40 one morning, but not the next? — Kate DeWeese, Tacoma

Answer: According to Claudia Bingham Baker, communications manager for the state Department of Transportation’s Olympic Region, the ramp meters along state Route 16 currently are being turned on and off manually.

They’re operated remotely by technicians monitoring traffic in WSDOT’s Traffic Management Center. When the operators see traffic conditions developing that warrant using the meters, Bingham Baker says, they activate them.

That human touch eventually will change, Bingham Baker said.

“As we continue to expand and upgrade our Intelligent Transportation Systems hardware and software, the SR 16 meters will be converted to ‘smart meters’ that automatically calculate the best activation and cycle times based on real-time traffic conditions on the ramps and mainline highways,” she said.

“We’re in the process of finalizing installation of 18 meters on the I-5 ramps between Marvin Road in Lacey and SR 512 in Lakewood,” she said, “and when they’re activated later this spring, they’ll have that automated capacity.”