Setting aside a border battle as old as the University of Minnesota and the University of Wisconsin is no easy task, but transportation researchers at both universities did just that to help residents of a northwestern Wisconsin town safely navigate dangerous intersections.

Originally developed at UMN, the Rural Intersection Collision Avoidance System was created to help drivers crossing separated highways judge when gaps in traffic are not safe to get across the highway, said Craig Shankwitz, director of the Intelligent Vehicles Laboratory at UMN.

RICAS is basically an electronic billboard that tells drivers when it’s unsafe to cross traffic on busy rural highways, Shankwitz said. It’s placed in a driver’s field of vision, so people can see the sign as they’re watching for traffic, he added.

“Most people involved in intersections make a bad decision about how much time they have [to cross],” Shankwitz said. “Because of high speeds involved with traffic on the expressway, those are typically fatal.”

UMN implemented the system at a Minnesota intersection in January, but Shankwitz said a federal grant received by the Wisconsin Department of Transportation allowed Wisconsin to use RICAS at a particularly dangerous intersection in Minong.

The town, about 30 miles east of the Wisconsin/Minnesota border and 50 miles south of Superior, sits on U.S. Highway 53 and is host to the most dangerous intersection on the highway, said UW Traffic Operations and Safety Laboratory researcher Madhav Chitturi.

Specifically, the worst intersection is at U.S 53 and Wisconsin Highway 77.

The system is designed specifically for intersections in rural areas, where vehicles have to cross interstates from a dead stop. Chitturi said RICAS wouldn’t work in urban areas unless the speed of traffic and the crossing tendency is similar.

Since the system’s implementation in Minong in April, Chitturi said only one crash has occurred.

In fact, the Intelligent Transportation Society of Wisconsin recognized the progress of the system in October by presenting its ITS Project of the Year award to RICAS, Chitturi said.

“I think [the award] recognizes the potential this technology has in terms of improving the safety,” he said. “We can actually work to make a system that improves safety.”

After one year, UW and UMN will evaluate the data and hopefully implement RICAS at more rural intersections, Chitturi said.