Traffic signal re-timing shaves minutes off Mound commute

By: Brian Louwers, Cortney Casey | C&G Newspapers | Published August 28, 2012

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What would you do with an extra five minutes?

It’s a question motorists on Mound can contemplate, thanks to the retiming of more than 50 traffic signals from West Utica Road in Utica to Nine Mile in Warren to ease congestion along the county’s heaviest-traveled corridor.

Robert Hoepfner, director of roads for the Macomb County Department of Roads, said the re-optimization, completed earlier this year, was the culmination of a yearlong study assessing traffic patterns along Mound.

According to the department’s analysis, the adjustments have resulted in an approximately five-minute average reduction to total travel time for the primary directions of commuter traffic: southbound in the morning, northbound in the evening.

“We saved about five minutes of travel time when you go down that corridor, down M-59 to Nine Mile Road,” said Hoepfner. “That might not seem to be a lot of time, but if you multiply that by 80,000 cars a day, there’s a huge amount of savings.”

Due to the more streamlined traffic flow, the changes will save motorists about 835,520 hours of travel time, 366,310 gallons of gas, and subsequently, nearly $14 million annually, according to the Department of Road’s calculations.

Hoepfner warned commuters not to expect a miracle: It’s unlikely they’ll be able to coast from West Utica Road to Nine Mile during rush hour without encountering a light. But at midday, with traffic “free flowing,” they theoretically could, he said.

Reprogramming the lights is a quick process that can, for most signals, be accomplished remotely from the county’s traffic operations center, said Hoepfner.

The lengthy and laborious part was the preceding study, which required crews to conduct traffic counts along Mound and every cross street, he said.

“All those signals have to be tied in with all the other systems to make it work the best,” he said.

A federal Congestion Mitigation Air Quality grant fully covered the $250,000 cost of the analysis, he said.

Hoepfner said there isn’t any set schedule for re-evaluating and recalibrating signal timing; it’s typically done when conditions arising from shifting traffic patterns begin to suggest a need for it or in conjunction with a planned signal modernization project.

The last time Mound’s signals were re-timed was 2004, he said.

Lt. Luke Riley of the Sterling Heights Police Department said he hopes that once motorists realize they can have an unobstructed drive by sticking to the speed limit, “maybe they’ll help them keep their speed down.”

Sterling Heights Community Relations Director Steve Guitar said he hadn’t heard feedback one way or another from motorists regarding Mound since the lights were re-timed, though he has fielded complaints on various other roads.

The Department of Roads also is performing signal upgrades and modernizations — sometimes in conjunction with handicapped-accessible ramp installations — at various locations throughout the county, including St. Clair Shores, Warren, Sterling Heights, Fraser, Roseville and Shelby Township.

The flow of traffic along Mound, particularly between 13 Mile and 14 Mile roads in Warren, became an issue in 2007 when the county increased the speed limit from 35 mph to 50 mph in Warren’s Village Historical District without consulting Warren police.

Before that, police had strictly enforced the 35 mph speed limit on that stretch of Mound.

Warren Garden Club members expressed concern when the change was made. They maintain summer plantings in the Mound Road median. Members of the Warren Historical Commission also noted that a gazebo in the median on the north side of Chicago Road had been struck on more than one occasion by vehicles that left the roadway.

They also expressed concern for the St. Anne Catholic Grade School and two churches nearby.

Safety concerns about traffic on Mound at Chicago Road were at the center of a recent legal battle between the county and Warren resident John Satawa over the placement of a nativity scene during the holidays. A federal appellate court judge, however, recently delivered a blow to the county’s claim that safety concerns were partly behind their decision to deny a permit for the crèche that had sat in the median during the Christmas season for more than 60 years before the county banned it in 2009.

Deputy Police Commissioner Louis Galasso said last week that the increase in speed created no added problems for Warren police. He said that recalibrating the light timing could further improve safety and the flow of traffic.

“Technology changes, and certainly studies change, and there’s different types of traffic philosophies out there,” Galasso said. “I do support those studies that dictate there are actually fewer accidents where it is engineered to be more efficient and timed in a better manner. I have become a believer in the fact that the fewer stops or slowdowns that one encounters on the road, the fewer accidents will happen.”

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