Spinning our Wheels

Spinning our Wheels is a commuting blog about the challenges of getting around Atlanta by car, bus, MARTA, bicycles and on foot written by transportation reporter David Wickert

States using drones to cut costs, improve traffic

Any driver with a few miles under his or her belt can attest that lane closures cause traffic jams. So if states could more often avoid lane closures, wouldn't that be worth trying?

Many states think so, and that's why they're increasingly turning to drones as a way to minimize the impact on traffic when conducting bridge inspections or clearing vehicle crashes.

The Georgia Department of Transportation (GDOT) could be using drones to monitor traffic in the next several years. The department commissioned a Georgia Tech study in 2014 that found 40 different ways the agency could use unmanned aerial vehicles. The $75,000 research project was conducted by Javier Irizarry and Eric N. Johnson.

GDOT will soon embark upon phase two of the study, which will look more closely at the practical applications, GDOT spokeswoman Natalie Dale said Tuesday.

READ MORE: Five surprising uses for drones

A March 2016 survey by the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO) found that 33 state departments of transportation have either studied, tested, developed policies for, or are currently using drones for these and other purposes.

For example, the state of Ohio has used drones to collect data about freeway conditions, intersection movement and monitoring parking lots.

Another popular use for drones is helping transportation engineers maintain roads and bridges in a state of good repair. Typical bridge inspection involves shutting down several lanes of traffic so that workers can be hoisted in bucket trucks.

Drones could change that by letting state transportation engineers examine bridges remotely. That makes the process faster, safer, and less expensive. Drones can produce 3D images by combining thermal, infrared and photography cameras. The images can then be examined to determine whether repairs are needed.

Compared to a typical bridge inspection, which takes about eight hours and costs about $4,600, a drone inspection takes only about two hours and costs about $250, the AASHTO survey found.

READ MORE: How drones could help your commute

RELATED: Local drone use taking off

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