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Illinois Tollway to test traffic app

Illinois Tollway officials want to test out a hands-free, eyes-free app next year that could alert drivers to traffic conditions as much as a mile before major congestion problems, Tollway board members were told Thursday.

The “distraction free” app would broadcast information over a driver’s iPhone or Android phone and be triggered by GPS locations.

It would be able to differentiate between car and truck drivers and could alert them to traffic incidents, travel times, construction zones, bridge clearance levels or weight constraints.

The app also could announce to drivers approaching or departing I-Pass-only tolling areas that they have seven days to pay tolls by mail or online if they do not have an I-Pass, officials said during Thursday’s monthly meeting of the Illinois Tollway board.

Such apps are currently used on the Pennsylvania Turnpike, and in New Jersey, West Virginia, Louisiana and on England’s highway system, officials said.

They use an “open microphone platform,” which is a voice-streaming technology used in combination with a phone’s built-in GPS.

“A customer would place their mobile phone on the dashboard, for example, and the phone would broadcast audio messages that the customer needs to hear, without looking at their mobile phone or interacting with it while driving. It’s distraction free,” said Tollway spokeswoman Wendy Abrams.

“We can customize the notifications to meet our needs – one mile before an incident or 50 feet after a customer passes through an open road tolling gantry,” Abrams said.

Tollway officials are currently working with the top two of four responders to a request for information about the app. They hope to launch an “internal” pilot next month, bring a pilot to the general public in early 2015, and launch a request for proposals in mid 2015.

Revelations about the distraction-free app come as Illinois Tollway officials prepare to open an electronic-tolling-only portion of the I-294/I-57 interchange in October. It will be the fourth all-electronic interchange on the Tollway system. Through Dec. 31, I-294/I57 interchange users who blow tolls are being extended a temporary 30-day grace period to pay them.

In other Tollway business Thursday, Tollway Inspector General James Wagner said four toll booth collectors have resigned or been fired after they were caught pocketing more than $9,000 in the last six months. In addition, two Tollway customer service representatives resigned after they were confronted about “questionable business transactions” on accounts involving credit cards, a report by Wagner indicated Thursday.