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CT Do Better: Fixing Poorly-Timed Traffic Lights

Retiming traffic lights can cost thousands of dollars, or even millions, if replacing traffic signal lights are involved.

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    CT Do Better: Fixing Poorly Time Traffic Lights

    Poorly timed traffic lights can cause traffic and cost commuters valuable time. But what would it take to fix them?

    (Published Tuesday, Nov. 13, 2018)

    Poorly timed traffic lights can cause traffic and cost commuters valuable time. But what would it take to fix them?

    How often have you felt like a set of traffic lights has you trapped in a cycle of green, then red, then green? Why is timing traffic lights so difficult?

    The start, stop, start, stop can add minutes or more to a commute, leaving drivers frustrated and sometimes late to work.

    "It’s terrible, I mean they’re not all synched together. So you can come up to this red light, and go to the next red light, and it’ll be red. You know they should all be synched together," said Arthur Berg of East Hartford. He says Main Street in his town has serious traffic light timing issues.

    So how much time do these potentially poorly timed traffic lights cost you? NBC Connecticut Investigates drove down Main Street in Middletown. It took us five minutes and 55 seconds to go just seven-tenths of a mile, covering eight stoplights.

    Everyone we spoke with had their "favorite" road, when it comes to what drivers consider poorly timed traffic lights.

    NBC Connecticut heard complaints about:

    • Huntington Avenue in Waterbury
    • Bank Street in New London
    • Main Street in downtown Hartford

    All of these cities tell NBC Connecticut Investigates they have projects that should improve traffic light maintenance or timing projects that are either underway, scheduled, or proposed for these roads.

    Retiming can cost thousands of dollars, or even millions, if replacing traffic signal lights are involved. One traffic engineer said replacing a set of signals at just one intersection costs $400,000 on average.

    In Middletown, the traffic division at the police department manages traffic light troubles.

    "We monitor our timing. We want traffic to flow. It’s a combination between pedestrian flow and traffic flow which makes good timing. You have to have both," Sgt. Dave Godwin said.

    Godwin tells us he and his team are working on projects that will widen parts of sidewalks near crosswalks on Main Street. That will shorten the time it takes people to cross, which in turn gives cars and trucks a longer green light.

    We heard complaints about poorly timed lights in New Haven too. The city’s traffic division researches trouble areas and says next year it will spend $90,000 to improve signal timing on a good portion of the State Street traffic corridor.

    "Every single one of the 945 computer controlled signals are in poor condition right now," explained Jim Redeker, the commissioner of Connecticut’s Department of Transportation, which owns and maintains hundreds of traffic signal systems in our state. "That’s troubling. But that's our inventory."

    The issue is not so much a lack of awareness about badly timed lights as much as it is the ability to pay for them, according to Redeker. He says his team can’t even keep up with the basics. He shared with NBC Connecticut Investigates a photo of a traffic signal box with a family of rodents in it.

    "These systems should have a preventative maintenance program which we have not been able to staff or afford. And this is what happens," said Redeker.

    At the same time, some drivers we spoke with say they understand why improving our bridges and roads have had to come before better-coordinated traffic signal systems.

    "People complain about traffic and so forth but that’s just modern life basically. Anyplace in Connecticut is a lot better than places in Texas and California," said New Haven resident Patrick Micarles.

    CTDOT says help is on the way, thanks to a five-year program that begins next year. The plan includes spending tens of millions on updating traffic light timing, by replacing and modernizing systems that currently have traffic signals, that in some cases, are over 50 years old.

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