Hi-tech new warning system coming to US-131 and Intertown Road


What do the F-22 fighter jet and the US-131/Intertown Road intersection south of Petoskey have in common? Soon they’ll share a radar detection system that will warn drivers of traffic at the intersection ahead, well before they ever see the vehicles.

In the first use of the technology in the state, the Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) is installing at this intersection both a Rural Intersection Warning System (RIWS) and a Rural Intersection Collision Avoidance System (RICAS). While there are three RIWS installations in use in Michigan, it will be the first RICAS location in the state, and is believed to be among the first places in the U.S. where both are installed together.

“As drivers in the area know, this intersection lies in a valley on US-131, making it difficult for highway traffic to see and react to vehicles stopped to turn onto Intertown Road or pulling onto the highway,” said Jason Bodell, traffic and safety engineer with MDOT’s Gaylord Transportation Service Center (TSC). “This system will warn drivers of other vehicles ahead that have slowed or stopped, giving them additional time to react.”

Fast Facts:

– MDOT is installing a new collision avoidance and warning system at the US-131/Intertown Road intersection south of Petoskey, the first location in the state with this combination of technology.

– This intersection is the site of multiple rear-end and angle crashes due to short sight distance.

– Reconstructing the interchange to address these problems is estimated to cost $2-4 million. However, installing this warning system instead will cost less than $50,000.

The RIWS is activated by a series of sensor “pucks” embedded in the pavement that will detect Intertown Road vehicles approaching the intersection. The RICAS uses radar to sense US-131 traffic that has slowed or stopped to make a turn at the intersection. Both systems trigger a flashing beacon on signs 800 feet on either end of the intersection, warning drivers to “Watch for Traffic” ahead.

“Many local drivers are aware of the limited sight distance when approaching this intersection, but it can be a surprise to see a stopped vehicle ahead when cresting the hills on US-131,” Bodell said. “With this system, our intent is to encourage drivers to expect a vehicle in the intersection when they see the flashing beacon.”

The US-131/Intertown Road intersection has been the site of many serious and several fatal crashes over the years, but the surrounding topography makes it difficult to correct the issues that contribute to these crashes. The entire intersection and roadway would need to be rebuilt, at a current estimated cost of $2-4 million. The RIWS and RICAS together will cost less than $50,000 installed.

“While we currently don’t have sufficient resources to address all highway maintenance and reconstruction needs, we continue to look for creative ways to address problems and improve safety whenever possible,” Bodell said. “This is an innovative use of technology to improve this intersection within our existing budget, with the intent to save lives.”