CHAMPAIGN — The city's literal red-light district — and probably a white-knuckle road for some — is about to get a fresh start: Officials hope drivers catch more green down North Prospect Avenue after they recoordinate the timing of the lights this summer.
The readjustment of how the traffic lights are timed is set to take place in late July or early August, said Champaign civil engineer Chris Sokolowski, and it should keep drivers moving along North Prospect Avenue — particularly the north end of that commercial area — more efficiently.
City officials last year hired Peoria-based TERRA Engineering to collect data from along the North Prospect Avenue corridor. Engineers focused more on the north part, from Town Center Boulevard to Interstate Drive, which is the more recently-developed section. Those lights have never been coordinated with the others, making it more likely for drivers to catch a red.
City officials now have those numbers and are poring over the recommendations to re-time the traffic signals. They plan to start doing that within the next several weeks, before University of Illinois students return to town.
The study also looked at the entrance to Lowe's and Baytowne Drive, closer to the south end of the commercial area, but Sokolowski said the changes to the timing there will be relatively minimal.
The report took about a year to turn around. Public works spokesman Kris Koester said Terra Engineering and the city's in-house staff were tied up with other, higher-priority traffic and street maintenance projects.
But now that they have the report in hand, they're hoping it leads to shorter average drive times up North Prospect Avenue.
"The goal is to be able for drivers to move along Prospect more efficiently," Sokolowski said.
Well, that is, at least once drivers get north of Interstate 74. Traversing the interstate is a problem that will remain unsolved with the traffic signal timing project.
The lights across the overpass that direct traffic at each ramp to and from the interstate are owned and maintained by the Illinois Department of Transportation, not the city. IDOT retimed those lights several years ago, Sokolowski said
Apparently to little effect.
"The congestion issues over I-74 are not solvable with signal timing adjustments," Koester said. "There is a capacity issue with the constant stream of traffic coming from all directions — eastbound, westbound and southbound — at Marketview all heading south."
That section of Prospect Avenue was reviewed about 10 years ago. The conclusion of that report was that the only solution is additional lanes over I-74.
Traffic signals fall out of coordination over time as traffic patterns change or, as in this case, new development messes with the flow of vehicles.
When they discussed the North Prospect Avenue re-timing last year, city officials suggested that they might next examine traffic signal coordination in the downtown area.