Re-timing of traffic signals could be first stage in overhaul

Re-timing of traffic signals could be first stage in overhaul

URBANA – The traffic signals at 25 intersections in Champaign-Urbana are about to get a timing makeover aimed at reducing traffic accidents.

But an even bigger, and more popular change, might be on the way: signal synchronization on every major traffic corridor in the cities.

The Champaign County Regional Planning Commission hopes to apply for a $1.94 million federal grant to coordinate the traffic signals at dozens of intersections in the community, covering major corridors such as Neil Street and Prospect, University, Bradley, Mattis and Florida/Kirby avenues.

"This is just a proposal. Nothing has been submitted yet," cautioned Rita Morocoima-Black, transportation planning manager for the Champaign-Urbana Urbanized Area Transportation Study.

CUUATS says the proposed "traffic signal energy efficiency and conservation strategy" could reduce the typical motorist's annual travel times by 20 to 50 percent, cut fuel consumption by 14 percent and reduce carbon dioxide, methane and nitrogen dioxide emissions by 13.3 percent.

But first, CUUATS has to wait for the federal government to develop an appropriate energy-saving grant program for mid-sized communities.

"We already have the application done," Morocoima-Black said. "We have the grant ready to be submitted at any time.

"We think it will be a good opportunity for Champaign-Urbana to save energy, which is a goal of the stimulus program."

Part of the nearly $2 million grant would cover the cost of replacing traffic signals at at least eight Champaign-Urbana intersections where the signals are so old that they cannot be coordinated, Morocoima-Black said. The grant also would pay to re-time and synchronize the signals.

"Under this grant, we would look at the different signals and see which ones would need to be replaced before we start with the coordination," she said.

Intersections where CUUATS already knows signals need to be modernized include First and Green streets, Walnut and Washington streets, Sixth Street and Gregory Drive, Fourth Street and Gregory Drive, Fourth and Peabody Drive and Fourth and Kirby Avenue.

Champaign City Engineer Roland White said one goal of traffic signal synchronization would be to coordinate signals among jurisdictions.

"I think we do a fairly good job in our individual communities," he said. "But it can be a problem when you go from Champaign to Urbana or from Champaign to (the Illinois Department of Transportation). Are we doing a good job of globally timing the signals? That's where we're going to look for improvements."

Chris Sokolowski, who oversees traffic management issues for Champaign, said his department is unable to regularly synchronize traffic signals along major corridors, and would welcome the assistance provided by a federal grant.

"It would be helpful to us because right now we don't have the resources," he said.

Meanwhile, CUUATS already has a $50,000 IDOT grant to study and re-time the yellow and red light clearance intervals at 25 local intersections.

The goal of that program, which "hopefully" will be completed within a year, according to Morocoima-Black, is to reduce collisions. She said the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety found that re-timing signal clearance intervals can reduce automobile collisions by 30 percent.

"We need to find out what the best interval is, because there have been some crashes tied to that problem, the number of seconds that people have to decide whether to go or to stop," she said. "We would like to use the same number for all signals, because that would make everything consistent, and drivers would know what to expect from signals."

The 25 signals to be studied and re-timed include, by jurisdiction, in Champaign: Bradley Avenue and Market Street, Bradley and Neil Street, Bradley and Randolph Street, Bradley and State Street, Mattis Avenue and Kirby Avenue, Mattis and Interstate Drive, Mattis and Olympian Drive, Windsor Road and Galen Drive, Windsor and Mattis, and Windsor and Duncan Road; in Urbana: Goodwin Avenue and Green Street, Lincoln Avenue and Windsor, Lincoln and Florida Avenue, Lincoln and Pennsylvania Avenue, Lincoln and Green, Lincoln and Springfield Avenue, Lincoln and Bradley, Main Street and Broadway Avenue, and Main and Race Street; and at the University of Illinois: Kirby and Fourth Street, Kirby and First Street, Kirby and Oak Street, Sixth Street and Gregory Drive, and Sixth and Armory Avenue.

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