Just What Are Those Things on Interstate 495?

"Intelligent transportation system" equipment is part of the ongoing resurfacing project of this Massachusetts highway.

METHUEN - Grass isn't the only "green" thing to look at while driving along Interstate 495.

The state had two new solar panels, each about 10 feet wide, mounted on top of a post in the median strip of the highway between exits 46 (Route 110) and 47 (Route 213) recently. The panels produce a minimum of 220 watts and power a two-sided electronic sign so messages about construction, lane closures, traffic jams and AMBER alerts can be conveyed to people driving in both directions.

The solar panels have batteries for backup so they can still provide power when the sun isn't shining, according to Adam Hurtubise, spokesman for the state Executive Office of Transportation.

The state uses solar panels to power its portable message signs, but these new signs and solar panels were permanently installed. This "intelligent transportation system" equipment is part of the ongoing resurfacing project on the highway from north of the Marston Street interchange in Lawrence to the Merrimack River bridge near the Methuen/Haverhill border, Hurtubise said.

"The $5.5 million project is about 80 percent complete and we are hoping to wrap it up by the end of the year," Hurtubise said.

Brox Industries of Dracut is completing the road work, and Dagle Electrical Construction Corp. of Melrose installed the solar equipment. Other intelligent transportation system components of the road project include traffic cameras and traffic counters, Hurtubise said.

The cameras are mounted overhead on poles and provide real-time traffic views to MassHighway's Traffic Operations Center. The public can watch footage from various traffic cameras at www.mass.gov/511/cameras, Hurtubise said.

The traffic counters collect data such as vehicle speeds, vehicle classification, lane occupancy and traffic volume.

"None of the equipment is used for police enforcement," Hurtubise said. "It is all related to managing traffic and incidents in a real-time setting."

MassHighway is having four more permanent solar-powered message signs installed on I-495 in Andover, Chelmsford, Berlin and Southborough.

"It makes sense from a design standpoint, especially in areas where it would be difficult to supply power through conventional means. That is why we design with solar power," Hurtubise said.

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