Frequently asked questions

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1. General

What is a Smart Freeway?

Smart Freeways are used successfully around the world to manage congestion, improve safety and get the most out of existing freeway infrastructure.

Using Intelligent Transport Systems (ITS), traffic conditions can be monitored and adjusted to reduce congestion by changing speed limits when needed, using ramp signals to make merging easier and opening and closing lanes in the event of an incident.

Where else have Smart Freeways been used?

Smart Freeways are also known as Managed Motorways, Smart Motorways or Managed Freeways. They can be found in North America, Asia, Europe and the UK, along with most eastern states of Australia.

Our Smart Freeway has been built using a ‘safety first’ best practice approach. We’ve taken the best elements from other jurisdictions and tailored a mix of technology and people skills to suit the local environment. You can find out more here.

How does the Smart Freeway project differ from other road projects?

The Smart Freeway – Kwinana Northbound project is unique because it included civil construction (the conversion of the emergency lane into a traffic lane) and installation of Intelligent Transport Systems (ITS) technologies to manage traffic flow.

Both elements had to be completed before the Smart Freeway could be opened and fully-operational.

This included commissioning of the technology, essential system testing and critical training of operational staff.

Why has the emergency stopping lane been removed?

Canning Highway’s northbound on-ramp has been a major contributor to traffic congestion on the Kwinana Freeway. Traditional widening wasn’t possible along this section of freeway due to its location between the railway and the Swan River.

Converting the emergency lane into a full-time traffic lane means vehicles joining the freeway from Canning Highway on-ramp no longer need to merge. This will reduce congestion and keep Perth-bound traffic flowing more smoothly on Kwinana Freeway.

Six emergency stopping bays are available on the Smart Freeway, between Canning Highway and the Narrows, located an average of 630 metres apart. These provide off-freeway refuge in the event of a breakdown.

The stopping bays are monitored 24/7 by the Road Network Operations Centre, with CCTV coverage and Incident Detection Systems alerting operators as soon as someone pulls into a bay.

The overhead electronic signs are used to open and close lanes and to create improved safety zones around stranded motorists unable to reach a bay, with dedicated incident response vehicles available 24/7 to attend and assist.

Do I still need to merge from the Canning Highway entry point to join the freeway?

You won’t need to merge anymore. We are removing the merge by adding a dedicated freeway lane from Canning Highway to the Narrows. This provides five kilometres of road to also give you time to safely change lanes as needed.

Why would lanes on the freeway be closed?

Lane closures are used to protect both drivers involved in a breakdown or incident and passing freeway traffic by forming a safety barrier between them. This also assists incident response teams to attend the scene.

The lane closures (indicated by the Red ‘X’ on the overhead electronic signs) also assist emergency service vehicles to pass through the area when attending incidents on the freeways.

Will Smart Freeway technology be rolled out across the entire freeway network?

Overcoming congestion is complex and different sections of the freeway network may require different solutions to keep traffic running smoothly.

Main Roads will consider what solutions work best in each location, introducing more Smart Freeway technologies across the network where they make sense and are cost-effective to implement.

2. Travel times

How much time will I save driving on the Smart Freeway?

Drivers can expect to save up to 10 minutes when travelling on Kwinana Freeway northbound from Roe Highway to the Narrows Bridge.

Combined with the other upgrade projects on Kwinana Freeway northbound, between Russell Road and the Narrows Bridge, savings of up to 20 minutes are expected for the northbound lanes.

How will the Smart Freeway improve my journey from the southern suburbs?

You should experience a number of improvements, including:

  • Travel time savings of up to 10 minutes from Roe Highway to the Narrows
  • Smoother driving conditions as stop/start congestion eases, with traffic better managed through the Smart Freeway
  • If there’s an incident, the speed limits on the overhead electronic signs may be reduced at times, to keep congestion from forming
  • Vehicles entering from on-ramps will achieve higher merging speeds before joining freeway traffic, keeping the Smart Freeway moving smoothly
  • Traffic entering the freeway from Canning Highway will go straight into the new fourth lane, which goes all the way to the Narrows Bridge
  • More information about road conditions ahead or expected journey times will be displayed on the large electronic message boards along the Smart Freeway, from Farrington Road through to the Narrows

Will stopping at the ramp signals add to my journey time?

No, the overall journey time should improve, with reduced congestion and improved reliability on the freeway.

When too many vehicles try to join existing traffic on the freeway, they’re unable to reach merging speed, slowing down freeway traffic.

Once this occurs, the impact is felt for kilometres, causing congestion to build.

Traffic signals at the on-ramps allow one car per lane to enter at a time. This gives each vehicle the opportunity to get up to freeway merging speed, reducing congestion.

When and why will the speed limits on the Smart Freeway be changed?

The overhead electronic signs mostly display normal speed limits relevant to that section of the Smart Freeway. However they can be changed by our operators in response to traffic build-ups or any incidents on the freeway, slowing vehicles down to allow the traffic ahead to clear.

By managing the flow of traffic on the Smart Freeway, we can reduce the impact of incidents and shorten the time taken to clear stop/start traffic conditions.

How does changing the speed on the freeway help prevent congestion and improve travel times?

When the freeway is heavily congested, traffic slows down and can even come to a standstill, which only gets worse as more cars arrive.

By slowing down traffic before it reaches the congestion point, vehicles already affected have time to clear. This keeps traffic flowing more smoothly and consistently along the entire length of the freeway.

3. Emergency and breakdowns

What happens if I break down?

Our Smart Freeway has six emergency stopping bays located an average of 630 metres apart, providing off-freeway refuge in the event of a breakdown.

The emergency stopping bays are constantly monitored by the Road Network Operations Centre staff, who can respond quickly.

If you can’t make it to an emergency bay, stay in your vehicle, keep your seatbelt fastened and put your hazard lights on.

This section of freeway is monitored 24/7 by CCTV and Incident Detection Systems that alert our operators as soon as someone pulls into a bay or stops in a traffic lane. Our operators then close lanes and reduce speeds to assist in keeping you safe until help arrives.

A dedicated Incident Response Service operates 24/7 on the Smart Freeway, which means we will see you and send help quickly.

What do I do once I pull into an emergency stopping bay?

The emergency stopping bays are monitored 24/7 by staff in our Road Network Operations Centre who can respond quickly and send help if needed.

The stopping bays are equipped with an emergency phone you can use to speak directly with our operators about your situation, or call 138 138 if you can’t leave your vehicle.

You must call our operators to receive advice before you can safely exit the bay.

But remember, emergency stopping bays are for emergencies only and should not be used as a pit stop or to make and receive phone calls.

What do I do if I stop or break down and can’t reach an emergency stopping bay?

If you break down and can’t make it to an emergency stopping bay, stay in your vehicle with your seatbelt fastened and put your hazard lights on.

Do not attempt to get out of your vehicle and climb over the concrete barriers.

Our Smart Freeway has CCTV coverage and incident detection radars monitored 24/7 by Road Network Operations Centre staff, which means the operators will see you no matter what time of day it is or what the weather conditions are. They will respond quickly, using the overhead electronic signs to close the lane you are in, and reduce speeds on neighbouring lanes to keep you safe.

They may also dispatch the dedicated Smart Freeway incident response vehicles to assist you.

How long will it take for the incident response team to respond?

We have incident response vehicles on standby 24/7 on our Smart Freeway, which means they can respond within minutes.

How will the incident response team reach me if traffic is backed up?

Our operators in the Network Operations Centre will open and close lanes as needed to make way for emergency response vehicles to attend breakdowns and incidents as quickly as possible.

How many incident response vehicles do you have?

There are two dedicated incident response vehicles on standby 24/7 on the Smart Freeway.

In addition, Main Roads has a fleet of incident response vehicles across the Perth metropolitan network, which can be despatched to assist on the Smart Freeway when and if required.

Emergency stopping bays are for emergencies only but what’s considered an emergency?

An emergency is any situation where a vehicle on the Smart Freeway cannot continue driving and is unable to reach the next available exit, which is always the safest option. This situation may occur due to mechanical / electrical issues, a minor crash or the occupant experiencing a medical episode impacting their ability to drive.

Emergency stopping bays must not be used to park and take or make mobile phone calls, take photographs, have a comfort break or any other reason where a driver might choose to pull over and out of traffic on a normal suburban road.

What do I do if an ambulance or emergency vehicle needs to pass?

You must make way for ambulances and other emergency service vehicles to pass when their lights and sirens are activated.

If you’re on the Smart Freeway, the overhead electronic signs will change to help emergency vehicles get through as quickly and safely as possible.

A ‘Red X’ will be displayed over any closed lanes and traffic further back will be directed into adjoining lanes using ‘White Arrows’, providing advanced warning of closures up ahead.

The speed limits on the overhead signs can also be reduced when needed to keep everyone safe.

Should I move to the left to let ambulances and other emergency vehicles through?

No, the overhead electronic signs will indicate which lane to move to using the ‘Red Xs’ and ‘White Arrows’.

By obeying these signs, a path will be formed to allow emergency service vehicles access through where you are on the Smart Freeway.

4. Electronic messaging

What does it mean when the red circle around the numbers on the speed signs start flashing?

Electronic overhead speed signs advise what the current speed limit is on that section of the northbound Kwinana Freeway.

When operators need to lower those speed limits, in response to an incident or to prevent congestion, the signs will display the dropped speed limit and the red circle around the numbers will flash to draw drivers’ attention to those changes.

The flashing red circle remains flashing until the speed returns to their usual limits.

What do the electronic signs above the Kwinana Freeway do?

These overhead electronic speed signs are controlled by the Road Network Operations Centre, which monitors traffic numbers and speeds on our Smart Freeway using a range of technologies such as sensors, radars and CCTV.

When there’s an incident causing congestion to build up, our operators can reduce speeds on the freeway. Slowing vehicles down allows the traffic ahead to clear, preventing stop-start conditions, and reducing rear-end crashes.

The overhead electronic signs are also used to close lanes and direct traffic into adjoining lanes when there’s an incident or debris ahead on the Smart Freeway.

These systems are used to improve travel times and enhance safety.

How quickly do the electronic signs change if there is an incident?

The signs change quickly, generally in less than a minute. This happens as soon as the operators monitoring the freeway confirm the exact location, ensuring the right information is uploaded onto the correct screens.

Will drivers be fined for driving in a lane displaying a ‘Red X’?

Lanes are closed and marked with a ‘Red X’ for safety reasons, so it’s important not to enter or stay in a ‘Red X’ lane.

Drivers ignoring the regulated signs may be subject to prosecution and/or infringement, just as they would be on any other part of the road network.

Will the ‘Red X’ increase congestion?

The ‘Red X’ is used to ensure safety on the freeway, particularly when there is already an interruption to the traffic flow due to an incident, crash or debris ahead.

The ‘Red X’ is not used in isolation; speed limits are also reduced and preceding overhead electronic signs direct traffic out of the closed lane.

Managing traffic in this way means that congestion dissipates quicker.

How long before the ‘Red X’ will I see a ‘White Arrow’?

‘White Arrows’ are generally activated at least one overhead electronic sign prior to arriving at a ‘Red X’.

However, if you’re between overhead signs, you may not see the change until the ‘Red X’ appears on the next sign ahead of you. If it does, move out of that lane as quickly as it is safe to do so.

How quickly do I have to change lanes when I see a white arrow above my lane?

You should change lanes as soon as it is safe to do so whenever you see a ‘White Arrow’ above that lane.

What are the electronic message boards used for and what types of messages go on them?

The electronic message boards display messages that inform drivers of the road conditions ahead – eg upcoming lane closures, speed reductions, potential delays and imminent road detours or closures.

Will the electronic message boards contain messages around events or news?

No, the message boards are used to display messages relevant to drivers using Kwinana Freeway.

We want drivers to understand that any messages displayed on the boards are important to their journey and should be read and followed.

Will drivers see advertising on the electronic message boards?

No, these boards will provide important information that may affect journeys on Kwinana Freeway and we want drivers to know that when they are on, the messages should be read.

Will lanes have different speed limits?

No, the overhead speed limits will always be consistent across all open lanes. However a lane or lanes may be closed using a red ‘X’, indicating you cannot drive in it, or may display a ‘White Arrow’, indicating that the lane up ahead is closed, meaning drivers should move out of the lane or lanes as soon as it is safe to do so.

5. Ramp signals

What does it mean when the ramp signals are flashing yellow?

The ramp signals are used to prevent congestion on the Smart Freeway -– mainly during peak periods or when there is an incident. They will flash yellow when they switch on and again when they switch off, to let drivers know of the change.

When switching on, the yellow lights flash for 10 seconds followed by four seconds of constant yellow then six seconds of red before switching to the normal green, yellow, red cycle.

When flashing yellow, you may proceed through the lights with caution, just like other traffic signals. If they change to constant yellow before you get to the stop line, stop and wait for the green light signals.

When the ramp signals are switching off, they flash yellow for ten seconds, during which you may proceed with caution.

How do the ramp signals work?

Each northbound on-ramp on the Smart Freeway has vehicle detectors in the road surface that provide data about the number of vehicles entering the ramp, how quickly they’re moving through and how much traffic is already on the freeway.

This information is shared between all ramps, with computers calculating how long vehicles need to be kept at each ramp signal for optimal freeway flow.

Where are the ramp signals located?

The ramp signals are located on Kwinana Freeway’s northbound on-ramps, approximately 200m before the merge point begins at Farrington Road, South Street, Cranford Avenue and the two northbound on-ramps at Leach Highway.

Where else will ramp signals be installed?

At this stage, ramp signals are only being installed on our Smart Freeway, but may be considered for wider use in the future.

How long will I be stopped at the ramp signals?

Each signal could vary depending on the amount of traffic seeking to access the freeway and the traffic conditions on the freeway. However, the ramp signals generally change much quicker than normal traffic lights

Can drivers be fined for running through the ‘red’ ramp signals?

Yes – the ramp signals work the same as traffic lights, only faster. That means anyone running the red light is subject to the same penalties.

How will ramp signals help reduce congestion?

When too many vehicles try to join existing traffic on the freeway, they’re unable to reach the right merging speed.

Once freeway traffic is slowed, the impact can be felt for kilometres, causing congestion to build.

Traffic lights at the on-ramps allow only one vehicle per lane to enter at a time, giving each one the opportunity to get up to freeway merging speed, which helps overcome congestion.

If ramp signals improve merging, shouldn’t they be used all the time rather than during peak periods?

The ramp signals are only used when traffic is heavy, which mostly occurs during the morning peak northbound or when there’s an incident causing congestion.

When traffic is light, merging onto the freeway is easy and does not slow down traffic flow, so the on-ramp signals aren’t needed at those times.

Will I be notified about potential delays on the freeway before I enter the on-ramp?

Yes, you will.

There are signs around 200 metres before the ramps and other signs where the ramp starts. As soon as our operators are alerted to any issues on the freeway, they will display appropriate messaging on these signs, letting drivers know what to expect.

Will stopping at ramp signals increase congestion on local roads?

No. When traffic is busy, such as during peak times or when there’s an incident on the freeway, local roads experience increased congestion due to traffic volumes, and so does the freeway.

The on-ramps have sensors embedded in the road surface that constantly measure traffic on the freeway and queuing on the ramps. This information is used to vary the red signal timings on the ramps to move vehicles through more quickly when needed, which reduces congestion on both the freeway and local roads.

Managing the entry of vehicles onto the freeway means everyone gets a chance to find a gap and merge smoothly into the traffic. Without these signals, vehicles merging from the ramps tend to slow down freeway traffic, impacting local areas and also increasing congestion on the freeway.

6. Technology

How does the Operations Centre know how well traffic is moving on the Smart Freeway?

The Road Network Operations Centre receives data on traffic performance from in-road sensors, detection radars and CCTV cameras.

These are the eyes and ears of our operators, who use the data to manage traffic flow and freeway performance on the Smart Freeway.

Can we trust the technology to work?

The technology has been thoroughly tested before and during activation to ensure it is working well.

It’s designed to provide information to our highly-trained operators, who then make the decisions on what actions are needed.

What happens if the power goes out?

All of the critical technologies have an uninterrupted power supply to protect them, so they will remain operational until the grid is back up and running.

Will the Smart Freeway enable the use of automatic or autonomous vehicles?

The vehicle industry and regulators are still working through how these vehicles should operate with one another and with driven vehicles.

We aim to create road environments that can support the use of such technologies as they evolve.

Main Roads is keeping abreast of the most modern available technologies to keep our freeways safer and reduce congestion.

Will the CCTV cameras and other technologies on our Smart Freeway be used by police?

No, the cameras and technology on our Smart Freeway are only used to manage the traffic conditions.

Main Roads does not enforce the road rules and penalties — that’s done by the Western Australian Police.

What are Cold Applied Plastic lane markings?

Cold Applied Plastic lane markings are a safety feature on the Smart Freeway, forming a durable, highly-visible, raised road marking. These types of lane markings can be seen more easily in all weather conditions and felt when tyres run across them.