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Young Engineer Uses New Technology to Solve Old Problem of Traffic Congestion
Mark Dunzo

Officials in Cary, N.C., a fast-growing town in the heart of the state's Research Triangle, had been searching for a way to reduce traffic delays and air pollution. Kimley-Horn and Associates Inc. engineer, Mark Dunzo had the answer: an intelligent transportation design that self manages traffic flow and decreases vehicle travel time by 15 %.

A graduate of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Dunzo, 34, chose to be an engineer at the age of 12. "Growing up in Los Angeles, I always had a love of urban issues and I felt that the planning degree would broaden my horizons and allow me to explore some of the big picture issues affecting how we live and how we function as a society," he says.

In 1995, Dunzo left the West Coast and joined the Cary office of Kimley-Horn, an engineering and land development firm, where he designs intelligent transportation systems to assist clients in tackling future urban transportation issues.

Located near Raleigh, Cary has quadrupled since 1970, causing town officials to take action against current traffic congestion and projected population increases. "The town of Cary is, and has been for many years, the largest municipality in the state with no proper traffic signal coordination," says town traffic engineer, Dale Privett. "With a population topping 106,000 now, many highways and streets in town are at capacity, air quality is steadily diminishing, and user costs in terms of delays and crashes are increasing."

Cary residents first asked the North Carolina Dept. of Transportation to install a traffic signal system to attempt to improve congestion at many intersections in the mid-1990s. However, a lack of state funding thwarted locals’ plans. Struggling to ease the town’s growing pains, the city council in 1999 conducted a feasibility study and began raising funds to revamp the local transportation infrastructure.

This year Cary secured additional funding from the state and the $9-million project is now funded jointly by Cary and a Federal Highway Administration Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality grant from the state’s transportation department. The federal share will total $4.85 million from a Federal Highway Administration program aimed at reducing traffic congestion and improving air quality, while the rest will come from street bonds approved by Cary voters.

Last March, Dunzo completed design on a state-of-the-art computerized traffic control system for Cary that includes traffic signal controllers capable of more versatile timing plans and implementation of traffic signal controllers that automatically retime themselves on selected corridors.

Intelligent transportation systems incorporate various information systems technologies — such as surveillance cameras and self-automated signals - to mitigate traffic jams and shorten motorists’ time on the road.

Major cities have been rapidly adapting high-tech hardware to increase the capacity of existing roads and highways. London deployed 688 cameras at 203 sites across an 8-square mile area to photograph the license plates of approximately 25,000 cars. The area has been designated as an anticongestion area and marked by a red C logo painted on signs and streets. The cameras help enforce daily tolls for cars driving in the marked off region.

In the U.S., M.I.T operates a simulation-based laboratory called MITISMLab under the university’s intelligent transportation systems program that partners with cities worldwide to help reduce traffic.

As a freshman at M.I.T., Dunzo had researched transportation issues and enjoyed the field, but he "was determined to go into structures." After taking a full course load of structure classes he grew disenchanted with building "big things" and abandoned structures for urban transportation. "My dad is a civil engineer. I started investigating what civil engineers did and liked the idea that civil engineers built big things like bridges and water systems," he says.

In 1991, he received his B.S. degree in civil engineering from M.I.T. Two and a half years later, Dunzo completed his masters in civil engineering with an emphasis in transportation and the majority of the coursework and requirements for the masters in city planning, both from the University of California at Berkley. In 1994, he landed a position with transportation engineering firm DKS Associates’ headquarters office in Oakland. While working for DKS, Dunzo completed his masters in city planning.

Now at Kimley-Horn, Dunzo recently accepted an offer of employee ownership. The privately held firm, is owned by approximately 12% of its employees.

Dunzo fills his non-working hours by participating in several professional organizations including: the North Carolina Section of the Institute of Transportation Engineers where he serves as chairperson of the section’s Traffic Engineering Council; the International Institute of Transportation Engineers where he participates on the ITS council; and the Transportation Research Board, where he advocates for the Signal System Committee.

For now, however, Dunzo and his colleagues will keep busy supporting Cary's new intelligent transportation project to ensure the design is implemented smoothly. Construction on the new system began in August and will be completed in 2006. Next on Dunzo’s to-do list is the redesign of the entrance road to Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport in conjunction with the airport's $300-million capital improvement program.


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