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Massive project yields devices to help ease traffic flow in Colorado Springs

October 8, 2013 Updated: October 9, 2013 at 7:06 am
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High-tech devices are on the way to help Colorado Springs drivers navigate through busy intersections more efficiently. Photo by Mark Reis, The Gazette

High-tech help for motorists is coming to Colorado Springs intersections.

The city is slated to get advanced detection devices that will help keep off-peak traffic flowing on major roads, said Rob Helt, the city's principal traffic engineer.

"With advanced detection, we can look upstream and downstream (on a major arterial) and see if we have a group of 10 cars and they are five seconds away from, say, Galley" Road, Helt said. "So let's not turn it red. Let's let those cars get through, then service the side street."

It's a massive undertaking.

In all, 222 signalized intersections in the city will get the devices.

Colorado Springs has 567 traffic signals.

On the well-traveled Academy Boulevard alone, 37 intersections will be equipped with the devices, reaching from Milton E. Proby Parkway in the south to the Interstate 25 ramps in the north.

Among other roads where every intersection will get high-tech help are Woodmen Road, Rockrimmon Boulevard, Centennial Parkway, Murray Boulevard, Chelton Road, Palmer Park Boulevard and Uintah, Fillmore and Fontanero streets, according to the Pikes Peak Area Council of Governments.

The project is part of the council's Transportation Improvement Program and is earmarked to get more than $275,000, according to PPACG.

Roughly $190,000 is federal money.

The project is expected to start in 2014 and will take about three years to complete, Helt said.

This year, the city spent time evaluating the devices and will recommend the ones they would like to buy to the Colorado Department of Transportation, which has final say.

The city is leaning toward a radar-based device instead of using video cameras, because inclement weather can hamper detection using video.

The project is already funded through a Federal Highway Administration Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality Improvement grant through CDOT and PPACG.

The devices are similar to air traffic control at an airport, PPACG transportation director Craig Casper said.

They detect cars approaching intersections on major thoroughfares from side roads, then look at gaps of vehicles on the main road so that "everybody slides through so the most people save the most time," he said.

High-tech highway help has been successful in Woodland Park, which is using a system called Adaptive Signal Timing, said Bill Alspach, Woodland Park director of public works and city engineer.

About two years ago, the state Department of Transportation installed the system as a test on U.S. 24, and "overall, I think it's worked fine," Alspach said.

"The average traveling public didn't notice much difference, but those of us who manage and watch traffic, you can notice the difference," he said. "It helps folks get through town, and it adjusts to what the demand and the traffic densities are."

According to a review by state transportation, Woodland Park saw improvements in travel time, fuel consumption and reductions in traffic delays.

The systems not only keep traffic flowing but can reduce red-light running and accidents, studies show.

In the Springs, the devices also should help ease the fringes of commuter traffic, Helt said. The city will be able to detect if commuter traffic is starting earlier than usual (usually about 6 a.m.) or dragging on later.

They will also be used for traffic flows around churches and malls during weekends.

"It's hard to predict the traffic patterns and what times they are going to start," Helt said.

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