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Archive for Monday, December 2, 2013

City working to add more high-tech traffic signals on major roads

December 2, 2013

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Lawrence motorists, your trips across the city may become a little more synchronized in about a year's time.

City officials have received another state grant to help synchronize traffic signals to cut down on the amount of stop-and-go driving. This latest round of funding will allow for work on heavily traveled streets in the city.

City engineer David Cronin said his office was working on plans to run fiber optic cable to traffic signals on portions of Clinton Parkway, Wakarusa Drive and the westernmost reaches of Sixth Street.

"It is going to produce a lot of benefits for us," Cronin said.

The fiber optic cable turns the traffic signals from ordinary signals that run on manual timer devices to ones that are connected to a mainframe computer that can be used to adjust the timing of the signals as traffic conditions warrant. The fiber optic cable also will allow for cameras to be installed at each intersection so that city crews and the public can monitor traffic and road conditions via a city website.

City officials recently received word that the city had won a $129,250 grant from the Kansas Department of Transportation that will pay for a large portion of the equipment needed to outfit the traffic signals.

Cronin said 12 intersections will be outfitted with the high-tech gear. The intersections are along the following route:

• Clinton Parkway from Iowa Street to Wakarusa Drive;

• Wakarusa Drive from Clinton Parkway to Sixth Street;

• Sixth Street from Wakarusa Drive westward to the South Lawrence Trafficway.

Design work is underway, while construction is expected to happen in mid to late 2014.

The new equipment will be in addition to several streets that have had the "intelligent transportation system" in place for the past several years. The city has fiber optic connected traffic signals on portions of North Second Street, Sixth Street east of Iowa, Iowa Street between Sixth and 23rd streets and 23rd Street east of Iowa.

Cronin said once the latest upgrades were made, the busiest section of city street without the smart signals would be Sixth Street between Iowa and Wakarusa. Cronin said the city applied for grant funding to install fiber along the corridor but wasn't selected for the most recent round of funding.

City officials, though, are expected to keep looking for opportunities to fund the portion of Sixth Street in the future. Cronin said the city was seeing how the technology could benefit the city in ways that go beyond having traffic signals that are more synchronized for the convenience of drivers.

For example, the system will notify city traffic engineers when a bulb has burned out in a signal, reducing the amount of down time for signals. Plus, Cronin said, some repairs can be made remotely through the computer rather than sending a crew to the intersection.

The cameras that are being installed at the intersections also have multiple applications, he said. Already, the city is using the cameras to broadcast real-time images of intersections during winter weather events. The images can be accessed at the city's website, lawrenceks.org/snow.

But don't worry; the cameras won't be used to issue tickets to drivers who run red lights. Kansas law currently does not allow "red light cameras."

The biggest benefit motorists likely want to see, however, is the coordination of traffic signals to reduce the amount of stopping along some of the city's busier streets. Cronin said that was still a work in progress, but he thinks the city is learning the capabilities of the system.

"There is a lot of reviewing and adjusting and a lot of trial and error as part of that process," Cronin said. "But we certainly think it will help how we manage some of our peak flows of traffic."

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