Local cities using advanced traffic signals to cut wait times

Dayton Daily News (OH), 2014-08-01


Aug. 01 --Millions of dollars in state-of-the-art traffic light systems have been installed around Dayton in an effort to get you to where you're going faster and help the environment.

The systems are automated and use fiber-optic cables to relay traffic volumes and adjust wait times at lights.

Older-style traffic signals rely on pre-set timing. The new wave of signals are "traffic responsive" and adjust on the fly as traffic rises and falls. Some work with pavement sensors, others with radar or cameras. The improvements usually shave a few minutes off travel times, not to mention aggravation.

According to the Miami Valley Regional Planning Commission , about a dozen such systems have been installed in the area in the past five years. The federal portion cost at least $7 million and includes other projects to reduce emissions and increase safety.

Lately Moraine and Piqua have implemented them. Other upgrades have been in Miamisburg , Springboro , Huber Heights , Fairborn , Centerville and West Milton .

Additional features can respond to ambulance runs by keeping lights green in the direction of travel. Back-up power systems keep lights running when power is knocked out region-wide by storms, relieving public safety workers who scramble to set up four-way stops.

Thirty-three traffic signals at state routes and freeway intersections are having back-up power installed in the event of a storm such as the 2012 derecho that knocked out power to hundreds of thousands in Ohio .

Moraine this year is benefiting from a $938,960 signal system that uses radar and cameras mounted on utility poles to track traffic and adjust signal times.

For the city's engineer, Charles Haught , the system is easy to manage because he can do it quickly from his desktop computer rather than traveling from controller to controller in the field.

"I can change light timing with a few key strokes," Haught said.

When school schedules change or there's an early dismissal, it's possible to set the traffic lights to move school buses faster, Haught said. Additionally, the city changed from incandescent traffic lights to energy-efficient LEDs.

Haught estimates the light change alone is saving the city $35,000 over five to seven years, a savings in addition of less gasoline burned at traffic lights by idling engines.

Moraine's system was paid for using federal highway funds and money from the Ohio Public Works Commission , Haught added.

In Piqua , the city used $469,381 in funding to coordinate its College Street / U.S. 36 corridor, long a traffic congestion center with plenty of truck traffic slowing down intersections and turn lanes. It's an emergency ambulance route, too.

"It's a huge issue for us," city Engineer Amy Havenar said. "Now, if a siren is activated, it gives them the green light. It also keeps U.S. 36 traffic moving."

Troy is upgrading with a $467,210 system on State Route 41 from Dorset Road to Marybill Drive including a ramp intersection at Interstate 75 that allows the traffic signals to to communicate with each other.

Fairborn is using $156,000 for signals on Central Avenue from Ohio to Broad streets. Greene County is deploying $1.4 million for a slew of signal upgrades on North Fairfield Road , New Germany Trebein Road and Colonel Glenn Highway , and Dayton-Xenia Road .

In Centerville , an upgrade a half-dozen years ago keeps traffic moving faster on State Route 48 / Far Hills Avenue , said city Operations Manager Mary Lou Pence . A fiber optics cable replaced an old copper line to coordinate signals.

In traffic engineer speak, it's called a closed-loop system, moving the bulk of traffic faster through the intersections -- assuming drivers are moving at the speed limit, Pence said.

Upgraded signals are also coming to the Wilmington Pike intersections with Feedwire Road and Interstate 675 as commercial development for a new Costco gets underway, said John Sliemers , Assistant City Engineer.

A state grant funded plan now underway seeks to improve the traffic corridor. Feedwire is being widened this year and Wilmington will be widened in 2015, Sliemers said.

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