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Green Light

Major streets get a traffic light makeover.



If you ever find yourself playing traffic light bingo (tallying as many green lights in a row as possible), your game of chance will soon get a little less chancy.

The city engineer's office is taking some of the serendipity out of the equation by introducing a $23.5 million coordinated system for traffic signals. Along major thoroughfares, drivers will experience fewer red lights, shorter trips, decreased emissions, and smoother traffic flow.

The federally funded project will create one consolidated system for coordinating over 300 traffic signals, allowing city engineer John Cameron and his team to direct the flow of traffic on the busiest streets in the city.

Underground fiber optic cables will link consecutive intersections on over 120 miles of arterial streets. Traffic lights on Jackson, Summer, Poplar, Union, Walnut Grove, Lamar, Winchester, and Germantown Parkway will be synchronized to allow those traveling at or below the speed limit to hit an optimal number of green lights.

But while keeping motorists contented with back-to-back green lights is a definite perk, the real impetus behind the project is environmental.

"The primary purpose is to reduce air pollution," Cameron said. "Once we have all these projects done, which will probably be over the next two years, we're looking at close to 80 tons a year of carbon monoxide reduction, more than seven tons a year of volatile organic compound reduction, and more than nine tons of nitrous oxide reduction. Some pretty significant air quality improvements."

The improvements come by way of simple science: It takes more energy to get a car up and running at the speed limit than it does to maintain that speed.

"In the same way that hybrid cars get much better fuel economy by using an electric motor to get you back up to speed," Cameron said, "we're trying to make it so you'll be able to continue at a good pace and not have to expend that fuel either sitting at a stoplight waiting for it to change or using the fuel to get back up to speed."

The engineer's office began planning for this project nearly eight years ago, but construction has only recently begun. Currently, workers are installing the new system along Lamar.

Federal funding for the project comes from the Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality Improvement Program, which provides funding for "cost-effective emission reduction and congestion mitigation projects," and the Surface Transportation Program, a source of flexible funding for highway and road improvements.

"It's a win-win," Cameron said. "We're doing something for the environment, and the everyday user will be able to get from one point to another more quickly and have fewer red lights to deal with."

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