Kansas City group managing traffic signals shares insights with Northwest Arkansas officials

by Jeff Della Rosa (JDellaRosa@nwabj.com) 468 views 

Ray Webb, who works with a Kansas City, Mo., planning organization that operates 700 traffic signals along major streets in Kansas and Missouri, recently shared signalization experiences and lessons learned with members of the Northwest Arkansas Regional Planning Commission.

The Mid-America Regional Council is an organization similar to the Northwest Arkansas Regional Planning Commission and operates traffic signals for 26 agencies, mostly cities, in Kansas and Missouri after it added two this year.

In 2008, the council, along with state and federal highway departments, established Operation Green Light to synchronize traffic signals on major streets, especially those that run through multiple cities. The first phase cost $13.1 million, included more than 600 signals and had initial annual costs of $1.2 million. The project is paid for by federal, state and local funds.

When the organization added cities to the system years ago, it found that the signals had video detection issues of which the cities were unaware.

“We’re able to find out what’s going on with the signals in real time, and try to the best we can find out why the detection system is not working,” Webb said. “We spend a lot of time keeping our cities’ detection working and our role is a dispatch. We don’t maintain it. We typically dispatch and keep track of did they fix it, did they not.”

When asked about the benefits of the organization overseeing traffic signals, he explained the signal timing improvements and ability to keep signals operating at peak efficiency. The organization has the ability to be online and track a signal’s information. On average, the system reduced delays on synchronized routes by 17%.

The software the organization uses to maintain the system is not controller specific, allowing it to work with multiple types of signals. The organization operates the majority of its signals in high traffic areas but not in downtown areas. It also owns very little of the traffic signal equipment, about nine traffic controllers and the network. The rest of the equipment, including the fiber optics, is owned by the agencies. The organization operates the system with four employees.

The organization usually doesn’t decline to operate a traffic signal unless it is in an isolated area and doesn’t serve multiple cities. However, it allows cities to put traffic signals on the system that it doesn’t oversee. This includes about 500 to 600 signals that are on the system but the organization doesn’t manage.

Tim Conklin, transportation programs manager for Northwest Arkansas Regional Planning Commission, was unsure whether a similar system would be brought to the area as one isn’t operating here now. However, an organization, such as the planning commission, could do so. Existing traffic signal systems in Northwest Arkansas are operated at the city level, not the regional or state level.

Andrew Brewer, assistant division engineer for the Arkansas Department of Transportation, said ArDOT’s traffic management center now under construction is expected to be completed at its central office in Little Rock this year. The existing center manages ArDOT’s technology assets such as the cameras monitoring traffic along the highways.

If the center were to receive more funding, it would allow it increase its capabilities, such as more cameras and message boards, he said. It could allow staff to communicate with emergency responders in the event of an incident. In June, a project is expected to start to install more cameras and message boards along Interstate 49, Brewer said. Those assets will be managed at the traffic management center.

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