Traffic woes about to get worse

Masters Week always brings bumper-busting traffic to Augusta, but this year the backups will arrive a month early. In the rush to complete work on traffic signals before the annual golf tournament, crews will reduce portions of westbound Washington Road to one lane between Berckmans and Pleasant Home roads next week.

For several months, crews have stayed on the shoulder of the road as they worked on a project to improve the traffic signals, according to Mike Keene, the Augusta area engineer for the Georgia Department of Transportation. That will change soon, when they move onto Washington Road to replace the signals.

"There may be some long lane closures because when they get started, they have to go from pole to pole latching them on there," Mr. Keene said.

The traffic woes are nothing new for commuters on Washington Road, who have been experiencing regular traffic backups for weeks.

This has happened, in part, because the copper wiring that links the lights along the Washington Road corridor was severed so it could be replaced with new fiber-optic cables, Mr. Keene said.

Each traffic signal uses a computer to set fixed times for red and green lights, depending on the time of day. They are linked together, according to Mr. Keene, so that all of the timings are coordinated. When they are cut it can cause congestion.

"The timing may be off on them just a little bit," he said. "That will cause some delays because one light is expecting the next one to come on at a certain time. Well, if that time's off by four or five seconds even, that means four or five seconds that the cars are backing up at the next light before it cuts on."

Mr. Keene said the lights will be back to normal once the project is complete.

The lane closures will be from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. each day in the westbound lanes of Washington Road. Work will resume after 6 p.m. and continue through the night.

As part of its contract, Beams Contracting must complete the work by March 31 or face heavy financial penalties, Mr. Keene said.

Reach Adam Folk at (706) 823-3339 or adam.folk@augustachronicle.com.