Improving traffic signals brings multiple benefits

Statewide effort prepares us for future

Miranda Wells
Traffic Engineer Miranda Wells works on signal upgrades in Redmond.

These days, ODOT’s traffic control system is more connected than ever, and travelers of all modes are reaping the benefits.

WAZE, Variable Message Signs, signal controllers: so much information is available, and it’s information people can use. Motorists, bicyclists, pedestrians: we all need access to this new world of traffic information, and the ODOT team is stepping up.

A video from our central Oregon crew shows how our signals system is at the core of this world of traffic control – and a new generation is on the horizon. It already transmits intersection information in designated time increments, but it’s on a path to do so much faster.

The systems evaluate signal information on a cycle-by-cycle timeframe, which can take a few minutes, but the new system will allow evaluation at 1/10th of a second intervals. Imagine what that means! No more waiting at a signalized intersection with no cross traffic because errant detection was noticed before it became a problem.

“ODOT is working to manage the signal system more proactively than reactively,” said Region 4’s Traffic Operations Engineer Dave Hirsch. “In doing so, the signals should operate more efficiently, resulting in less delay and improved safety.”

With real time information coming to the computers that control intersection signals, normal waiting times will also be minimized. In addition, the new upgrades are helping ODOT be prepared for the future, when connected and automated vehicles will communicate with signals to keep traffic flowing and improve safety.

ODOT’s Region 4 is well on the way to changing all the ODOT-owned and maintained signals in central Oregon, with a goal of 86% changeover by 2023. Across the entire state, we’re aiming for 75% of our signals to be updated by that same year; this is one of the actions in our Strategic Action Plan. It’s one of many things we’re doing that has multiple, multimodal benefits.

“We can evaluate a corridor in a handful of hours now – evaluations that used to take weeks,” said Hirsch. “We can respond so much faster.”

Hours instead of weeks. What a difference that will make for people who rock, roll, ride and drive their way around our transportation system.