As you drive Lowcountry highways, watchful eyes are tracking traffic problems in a dark room in North Charleston. The room is lit only by the video feeds from dozens of cameras stationed along the interstates and highways. The News 2 I-Team was granted a behind-the-scenes look at the operation center for the DOT’s State Highway Emergency Program, commonly called SHEP.
Dispatchers at the Traffic Management Center for the DOT monitor more than 70 cameras in the Lowcountry.
The dispatchers send SHEP drivers to various incidents along the interstates. Drivers can help you if you run out of gas, have a flat tire, or need a lift to the nearest exit. They can move a flipped car from the road or through the use of their specialized trucks, they can “bump” broken down cars out of the road. The trucks are equipped with gas, and an air-powered jack and tools that allow responders to change a flat in about 15 minutes.
The Traffic Management Center is the brains of the program. The Center is manned every day until 7:00 p.m. The dispatchers watch traffic flow from the cameras and from maps with traffic indicators in real time.
“They can tell based on what they are looking at if there’s something that is slowing traffic down,” Paul Register, DOT spokesman, explained. “We coordinate with law enforcement, and we work with them to clear those lanes.”
Dispatchers closely watch the merge at Interstates 26 and 526, the Ravenel, and the Don Holt Bridges. They also listen to police radios and monitor the Highway Patrol’s incident log.
“Before the trooper gets on scene we can actually activate message boards,” Register explained.
The dispatchers are also responsible for updating the 511 hotline, which gives drivers updated information on traffic problems.
In its 20 years, SHEP has helped more than 771,000 drivers.
“It’s been said that for every one minute of delay on the Interstate system it adds six minutes of additional travel time to the motorist, so it doesn’t take long to figure out just how important a program like this is to help keep traffic flowing in our state,” Christy Hall, SCDOT secretary, said.