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January 1999

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State and Local Traffic Engineers Prepare for the Millennium

With the Year 2000 (Y2K) rapidly approaching, State and local traffic engineers from the Mid-Atlantic States met with Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) officials on December 1 to make sure that computerized traffic control systems will function properly when the new millennium arrives.

"Ensuring safe travel when January 1, 2000, arrives is a major priority of the department," said Deputy Transportation Secretary Mortimer L. Downey. "Regional meetings like this will help ensure that our Nation's transportation system makes a smooth, safe transition into the 21st century."

Conference leaders stressed that early planning and teamwork are essential to ensuring that traffic will continue to flow smoothly and safely once the century rolls over. Problems can usually be prevented with a simple technical fix, but determining what needs to be fixed, and how that should be done, requires an extensive computer evaluation and testing process.

"The question that everyone needs to ask is, 'Are you Y2K okay?,'" said Federal Highway Administrator Kenneth R. Wykle. "Y2K okay means having a interoperable system that works for you and is also able to communicate with other transportation systems."

States often use different software packages to control traffic signals, and sometimes these various software packages are not compatible. For example, city streets may have alternating traffic patterns, depending on the time of day, and use computerized signs to keep motorists advised of current traffic patterns. If the signals directing the one-way traffic stop working, there would be both a safety hazard and congestion.

John McCracken of FHWA urged all States and localities to "develop and implement a contingency plan with a wide range of Y2K scenarios that anticipate what can go wrong and how to respond."

FHWA will be scheduling additional regional Y2K workshops in 1999 to assist States. For more information, contact your local FHWA division office. Further information on Y2K traffic control issues can also be found on FHWA's Web site at www.fhwa.dot.gov/y2k.

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Updated: 04/07/2011

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