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Ramp Meters: The Best Solution for Traffic Congestion?

Updated: Mar 15

The American population grows constantly, just like the number of cars on American roads. As the number of automobiles rises, so does traffic congestion and the need for highway redevelopment. Adding more lanes to existing highways is not necessarily the only solution for traffic congestion because the traffic may also start on the on-ramps of highways. One of the best solutions to this problem would be ramp meters, which have become more and more popular since the 1980s.


Ramp meters can significantly reduce the number of automobile crashes if used in an efficient manner, which includes functioning only during rush hours. This efficiency comes from many factors, such as ramp meters’ ability to break up huge platoons of vehicles that try to enter and fight for the same spot on the highway. With ramp meters, only one car is allowed per spot in the traffic flow, reducing the risk of collisions. Many regions newly equipped with ramp meters note a significant decrease in the number of car crashes.

Effective queuing in on-ramps is crucial to get such positive results. It also reduces the risks of collision in the adjacent arterial (road just before the on-ramp).

The state of Minnesota conducted a study to show how beneficial ramp meters are for automobilist safety by shutting off all their ramp meters for six weeks. The state observed a 26% increase in crashes, which shows that ramp meters can help prevent car crashes when used correctly.

Mobility and Cost Effectiveness for Automobilists

Safety is not the only benefit of ramp meters. They also save automobilists time and money.

Ramp meters increase traffic speed, which decreases travel time for automobilists. In the same Minnesota study, travel time increased by 22% when ramp meters were shut off. In urban areas, many cities noted an important decrease in travel time and an increase in highway speed following the implementation of ramp meters.

Ramp meters also benefit automobilists by saving them gas money. Risks of stop-and-go traffic can be higher without ramp meters, which force automobilists to consume gas while stopped. Ramp meters can reduce these risks, which also reduces the gas consumption of automobilists.   

But Where to Find Funding and How to Make Sure They Are Efficient?

Ramp meters change the dynamic and the daily lives of many automobilists. They can be very useful to smooth the traffic flow and avoid multiple collisions, but if they are not adapted to the traffic conditions of their location even if studies and tests were conducted, they may worsen the traffic flow.

Many ramp meters operate 24 hours a day, seven days a week in locations that are not always in congested conditions. Ramp meters may cause more traffic jams than if they were not working in non-congested conditions. On-ramp traffic speed is then reduced, which increases the speed difference between on-ramp and highway vehicles. Risks of collision and traffic jams are then increased, as well as travel time. The study on I-95 in Miami proved that ramp meters can be helpful, but when they are always activated, they can increase the risk of collisions. This is why many studies are conducted before installing ramp meters.  

These studies can be expensive. Funding from the different government levels can be difficult to obtain if ramp meters are not a priority for governments or if the reconfiguration of ramp highways is expensive and requires long-term construction. However, installing ramp meters is often worth the risk because they have proven to be a reliable cost-efficient solution.

System-wide Ramp Meters Assure Cost-effectiveness

The best solution to ensure that ramp meters will reduce collision risks and smooth the traffic flow would be to prioritize the installation of system-wide adaptive ramp meters. Ramp meters from all regions would be in communication to gather as much data as possible to prevent traffic jams and collisions during rush hours. This has proven to be reliable over numerous years. Ramp meters can also be programmed with sensors to activate and deactivate the signal lights. When there is not a dense traffic flow and they are functioning, they are more harmful than beneficial. However, if ramp meters are only activated during dense traffic flow, they can be very helpful for automobilists and the economy since delivery products travel faster, leading to faster production as well. 

The opinions expressed in this article are those of the individual author. 


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