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Winston-Salem traffic signal project to improve travel

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WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. – The city of Winston-Salem is in the midst of a major overhaul when it comes to their traffic light system.

Planning for the project began in 2011, and as of today, those plans are about 60 percent completed. The project was split into two halves; the eastern portion of the city and the western portion. People have begun to notice the work because the downtown portion of the project began last week.

“The intersections will be connected with fiber optic communication,” said Connie James, Deputy Director of Transportation for the city.

The traffic light controllers in the downtown area will be on a completely wireless network.

Previously, the system had been connected by what was basically copper wiring. The copper would frequently break and was susceptible to lightning, which would sometimes knock out multiple traffic light controllers at once; costing the city money and in turn costing the citizens money.

“We were experiencing a lot of communication failures,” said Larry Walker, Traffic Signal System Supervisor for the city.

By the time the project is completed, there will be about 380 intersections with traffic signals in the city; all of which will be controlled from one room in the city’s transportation center.
“Basically, we’re like a network in a building,” said Walker. “Except we cover the whole city.”

Some of the lights in the city are run with timing plans. Those timing plans can change up to seven times a day, depending on the volume of traffic. The new system will help workers better monitor the timing plans and make adjustments if necessary.

“It’s [going to] help reduce travel times, which means fuel costs, fuel savings,” James said.

She added that it will also reduce time that people have to sit at lights, reducing emissions and improving air quality.

Other traffic lights are controlled by sensors planted below the roadways. Those sensors consist of grooves, with wrapped wire. When a vehicle sits above the sensors, the metal in the vehicle creates a small current and an inductive loop. The detector senses the vehicle and tells the controller there is a vehicle which needs to be serviced and the light will change.

James says that the sensors will only work if a vehicle is above them. If a vehicle rolls beyond the stop line, they will not recognize that a vehicle is still waiting.

“There are times where equipment malfunctions and there may be a sensor that’s broken that needs repair,” James said.

Therefore, if you feel like you’re sitting at an intersection for an abnormally long amount of time, contact City Link at 3-1-1 to report it, and thanks to the updates, they will be able to look at the sensor from their control room and see if it needs to be fixed.

The project also includes adding more cameras to major intersections, allowing the workers to see what is happening at each of them in real time.

“These cameras are strictly for monitoring traffic,” Walker said. “If there’s an accident on the thoroughfares, we can actually see what detour routes people are picking.”

By monitoring the flow of traffic, they can adjust the timing of other intersections to clear up added congestion.

The goal was to complete the project before work on Business 40 begins. Officials say the traffic signal project should be completed by September of 2016.