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Highway message boards connect ODOT to motorists

Each day, thousands of drivers travel along Oklahoma highways. Sometimes, the agency in charge of maintaining those roads needs to tell drivers what’s up ahead.

To accomplish this goal the Oklahoma Department of Transportation uses dynamic message boards to relay information. They’re the large black boards over or next to highways emblazoned with yellow or orange text.

OK, how do those variable message boards work?

Alan Stevenson, IT and fiber optics engineer for ODOT, recently showed off the system for The Oklahoman’s latest video series, "OK, How?" which is now available online.

There are 24 signs in the Oklahoma City metro area and 25 in Tulsa, with another 18 spread across the state. Each of them is controlled remotely from a small control room in ODOT’s office building near the state Capitol.

ODOT employees use a bank of monitors which allow them to keep an eye on camera feeds and traffic speeds, and to push updates to the 67 signs,

It cost the state $250,000 to install the signs.

They are used to tell drivers about construction delays, travel times on the state’s highways and for weather alerts ahead. Officials also send a notice to drivers during Amber and Silver Alerts.

“Most of the time, we put in things to deal with incidents or construction problems,” Stevenson said.

On Work Zone Wednesdays, ODOT focuses on roadway safety in construction areas. They can sometimes be humorous. A recent message referring to HBO's popular "Game of Thrones" series told drivers: “When you are in the game of cones, you’ll know safety Jon Snow.”

All of the messages are designed to be on display just long enough to read as someone is passing by.

The program doesn’t require someone to sit at the desk all the time. Most of the words are written well in advance of appearing along the highway.

“The Work Zone Wednesday, since we know what the messages are ahead of time, we can pre-program those,” Stevenson said. “A lot of the messages, like travel time, those are pre-programmed and they use the actual speed data to fill in the information and post that.”

ODOT instantly transmits messages to the boards one of several ways: a fiber optic connection, microwave links or cellular technology. In some locations, boards have more than just one communication option to improve redundancy.

Is there an odd, confusing or just plain interesting fact about something in Oklahoma you’d like Dale to explore? Email him at ddenwalt@oklahoman.com.

Related Photos
<strong>Traffic operations specialist Reina Wilson talks about how she can control ODOT electronic highway signs from the operations center at Oklahoma Department of Transportation in Oklahoma City. [Nate Billings/The Oklahoman]</strong>

Traffic operations specialist Reina Wilson talks about how she can control ODOT electronic highway signs from the operations center at Oklahoma Department of Transportation in Oklahoma City. [Nate Billings/The Oklahoman]

<figure><img src="//cdn2.newsok.biz/cache/r960-6e7e80c0ec90aac20ef2afdfee106379.jpg" alt="Photo - Traffic operations specialist Reina Wilson talks about how she can control ODOT electronic highway signs from the operations center at Oklahoma Department of Transportation in Oklahoma City. [Nate Billings/The Oklahoman] " title=" Traffic operations specialist Reina Wilson talks about how she can control ODOT electronic highway signs from the operations center at Oklahoma Department of Transportation in Oklahoma City. [Nate Billings/The Oklahoman] "><figcaption> Traffic operations specialist Reina Wilson talks about how she can control ODOT electronic highway signs from the operations center at Oklahoma Department of Transportation in Oklahoma City. [Nate Billings/The Oklahoman] </figcaption></figure><figure><img src="//cdn2.newsok.biz/cache/r960-60b8649c23e710e70879ae8f9fe9d1f1.jpg" alt="Photo - [Illustration by Todd Pendleton] " title=" [Illustration by Todd Pendleton] "><figcaption> [Illustration by Todd Pendleton] </figcaption></figure><figure><img src="//cdn2.newsok.biz/cache/r960-0f683488389d50dbae2fb8313a9afcb4.jpg" alt="Photo - [Illustration by Todd Pendleton] " title=" [Illustration by Todd Pendleton] "><figcaption> [Illustration by Todd Pendleton] </figcaption></figure>
Dale Denwalt

Dale Denwalt has closely followed state policy and politics since his first internship as an Oklahoma Capitol reporter in 2006. He graduated from Northeastern State University in his hometown of Tahlequah. Denwalt worked as a news reporter in... Read more ›

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