At the intersections on Mobile’s primary east-west corridor, traffic controllers were sometimes 30 years old, with timing plans that were last updated over 10 years ago, according to Jennifer White, director of traffic engineering for the city of Mobile.
White said congestion problems are primarily solved by adding more lanes to roads, but many roads in Mobile don’t have that option. The best way to reduce congestion on these streets, she said, is to improve traffic control synchronization.
“One thing that’s important to know on this corridor: to get the full benefit of [the traffic light synchronization], you need to be at the speed limit or below it,” White said.
Someone who is driving too fast or too slow on the road won’t take full advantage of the improvement.
On Water Street, where the city synchronized the traffic lights, the reduced congestion allowed the city to remove a lane of traffic in both directions.
The project has been divided into phases, with the first phase, which was just completed, consisting of traffic controllers at intersections between South Sage Avenue and South McGregor Avenue being updated with state-of-the-art technology, White said.
The second phase will consist of traffic controllers between South University Boulevard and Hillcrest Road being replaced, while the third phase will see controllers replaced between Hillcrest Road and Cody Road South. White said she hopes the second and third phases will be completed by the end of 2021.
When updating traffic controllers, the city installed cameras in locations where they didn’t have any before and replaced cameras that no longer worked. The biggest expense of the project was the fiber-optic cables that were installed underground to connect the controllers.
“It’s much more than we will probably ever be using with newer technologies, but we did that as a benefit for the city,” White said.
Due to the new technology, she said Airport Boulevard will be used to test a traffic signal preemption system, which influences the traffic controller to give emergency vehicles right of way when they are detected via GPS or some other signal.
“Now we have an opportunity to at least test those things and be able to possibly use them one day,” White said.
Funding for traffic control is hard to come by, White said, but it helps that Mobile Mayor Sandy Stimpson sees traffic as a priority. The city of Mobile released a YouTube video in which Stimpson showcased the improvements to traffic congestion on Airport Boulevard.
“We are going to show you that something has been done and we’re really proud of it,” Stimpson said at the beginning of the short video.
In the video, Stimpson drove both westward and eastward on Airport Boulevard and talked about the improvements made and the steps it took to get there.
“Without exception, the travel time between Sage Avenue and University Boulevard is much quicker than it used to be,” he said. “It’s all because of this project.”
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