Poorly timed traffic signals that often hinder rather than help traffic flow could soon be a rarity in Richmond and Columbia counties.
Both are planning to install additional adaptive lights that adjust their timing based on traffic flow. After Columbia County tested the technology in 2009 on Washington Road, Richmond County followed by installing the signals on Washington from the John C. Calhoun Expressway to the county line.
Using the 1 percent sales tax for transportation projects, adaptive lights are coming to River Watch Parkway at the Interstate 20 interchange and Wheeler Road from I-20 to Walton Way Extension.
Adaptive traffic signals detect the number of cars on the road and communicate with other signals in the area. Ordinary signals use a computer system to set a fixed time for green and red lights, depending on the time of day.
Wrightsboro Road from North Leg to Barton Chapel Road and Gordon Highway near Fort Gordon also have the technology, said Augusta traffic engineer Steve Cassell.
“Overall, it seems a tremendous improvement,” he said.
Cassell said he’d like to see adaptive signals on Peach Orchard Road and other areas where traffic flow fluctuates for special events or rush hour. The lights, which cost between $20,000 and $30,000 each, are not in the county’s regular operating budget, and must be funded by special purpose sales taxes or grants, he said.
Columbia County has purchased the equipment to expand its adaptive system from 23 signals to all 71 lights in the county, said Matt Schlacter, the county’s director of construction and maintenance.
When complete, Columbia County will likely be the first county in Georgia to have a countywide adaptive signal system, Schlacter said. The system can cut a five-minute trip across town to a minute and a half.
“We will have all of them talking to each other all the time,” he said. “This system looks at the demand. It’s constantly adjusting the time to make sure you have the optimal flow.”
Adaptive signals are a less expensive way to improve traffic flow in place of costly road widening projects, Cassell said. Funding for road construction has been cut and become more difficult to obtain, he said.
Cassell said his department received the fewest complaints ever about traffic congestion on Wrightsboro Road near the Augusta Mall during last year’s Christmas shopping period because of the new lights.