Federal grant to improve Q.C. traffic flow - East Valley Tribune: News

Federal grant to improve Q.C. traffic flow

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Posted: Sunday, October 11, 2009 6:45 pm | Updated: 12:59 am, Sat Oct 8, 2011.

Queen Creek is expecting to receive a $550,000 federal grant to install new cameras and a communication system at 11 intersections in Town Center.

Queen Creek drivers could be seeing less red next year.

The town is expecting to receive a $550,000 federal grant to install new cameras and a communication system at 11 intersections in Town Center. The cameras will be able to monitor traffic flow and help time the signals.

That means drivers will hit fewer red lights as they travel through Town Center, especially on Ellsworth Loop Road, said traffic engineer Mike Pacelli.

There are already cameras on the town's 33 traffic lights, the first of which was installed in late 2006. But those fixed cameras only serve as sensors to alert the signal when a car is present so it can do operations like trigger left-turn arrows.

The new cameras will be able to move for a broader view of traffic. They'll be tied together electronically and will feed information back to Town Hall so the lights can communicate with each other - and let engineers coordinate the signals.

"Right now we have all these signals down there, which anyone who drives through town can attest to, they're pretty random," Pacelli said. "And that's because we have no way to keep them in sync with each other."

Pacelli said the town did try to sync the lights manually shortly after the Loop Road opened. That involved hand programming every single light, which took a whole day and didn't last very long because the clocks in individual signals tend to drift a bit.

"It's not a very practical way to try to get the signals coordinated. If we had a few signals over a greater distance, it would be doable," Pacelli said. "But we have several at irregular spacing."

These cameras will feed information on traffic flow back to a closed-circuit television system, where a traffic engineer can program lights remotely, Pacelli said.

It will also let staff know if there are any problems or light malfunctions, Pacelli said. The cameras won't record or be used for photo enforcement, he said.

The money would come from a federal air quality grant administered through the Maricopa Association of Governments' Transportation Improvement Program.

"The nature of the work to improve air quality is we can put in this intelligent traffic system to improve traffic flow," Pacelli said, adding the award isn't part of the federal stimulus package.

Queen Creek received preliminary notification that it's receiving the award, with a formal approval letter expected within a couple of weeks.

Pacelli hopes to have a contractor selected in about two months and the work done in six to eight months.

The bulk of the project's expense comes in installing the communication system. The 11 lights initially tied in will be connected back to Town Hall with fiber optic cables, Pacelli said.

With that backbone in place, it will be easier to tie in more lights later.

Pacelli hopes to have all the signals at least communicating with radios by mid-2011. Those radios would be converted to fiber optic cables as streets are improved, since new roads in town are built with conduits already in place, Pacelli said.

It may take some time for drivers to notice a difference once the system is installed. Engineers will still have to study traffic patterns and time the lights, although cameras will make it easier, Pacelli said.

"The system is a tool. It doesn't, on its own, develop results," he said. "People shouldn't assume we're getting this federal money and we'll put it in and flip a switch and they'll always get green lights."

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