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Columbia traffic signals prompt complaints

The city of Columbia said this week it has not current list of working sensors at the intersections its public works department is responsible for maintaining.

According to Columbia Public Works spokesman Steve Sapp, a study would be complete by mid-summer to provide a comprehensive list of sensored intersections and any maintenance that needed to be done.

But Columbia’s road are not just maintained by Columbia Public Works. The Missouri Department of Transportation maintains many of the city’s busiest intersections.

“We do get a lot of calls on signals,” MoDOT traffic engineer Trent Brooks tells ABC 17 News. “We wish we could do more, but our current funding situation doesn’t allow us to do more, so we’re just trying to keep people moving the best we can.

The biggest complaint, and the most complained about on the ABC 17 News Facebook page, was the intersection of Stadium and Bernadette by Columbia Mall.

The Stadium Boulevard corridor remained under construction Monday, with road expansion scheduled to be completed by the fall. MoDOT reported 60,000 vehicles used the Stadium-Bernadette intersection daily.

When the orange cones come off that corridor, the traffic signals will change – again. The new system allows the signals at different intersections to communicate and determine which sequence will allow for the most traffic movement.

“They’ll be connected by fiber so they’ll be able to talk to each other,” said Brooks. “When traffic leaves one signal, it’ll let the next signal down the road know it’s coming … if there’s time in between that time, it’ll serve some other movements, so the signal will jump around.”

Lights on parts of Grindstone Parkway in south Columbia use a similar system.

Brooks told ABC 17 News that MoDOT had already made minor tweaks to the timing of the lights at the Stadium-Bernadette intersection.

“The light’s about five seconds long and you get about two cars through if everyone’s on their game,” one man told ABC 17 News last week.

“I don’t really go out there but every time I do it’s terrible,” another woman said.

There’s a reason the signals on Bernadette seem short – MoDOT admits they are.

“We do time it where those side streets don’t get much time because there is so much traffic on Stadium,” Brooks said.

Many ABC 17 News viewers questioned whether many Columbia intersections had sensors to detect coming traffic, noting long waits for a green light even during slow traffic hours.

Brooks told ABC 17 News most Columbia intersections maintained by MoDOT had sensors, either cameras or “loops” cut into the pavement. The majority of intersections without sensors were in the downtown area, along Providence Road and College Avenue.

Even with sensors, technical problems were an issue for MoDOT.

“These signals, these cameras, these loops, they’re out in the weather 24/7,” Brooks said. “Whatever the weather’s doing, they’re out there and they can malfunction.”

The camera sensor were eyes in the skies for the signals and, when Brooks showed ABC 17 News the computers running the sequences, could detect cars waiting at the stop bar.

At another common problem intersection, the Interstate 70-U.S. 63 connector at Clark Lane, ABC 17 News timed lights staying green between 20 and 30 seconds.

“Right now it’s running 100 second cycles, so everything gets moved every 100 seconds,” explained Brooks.

During busier times, MoDOT said those times could get up to 130 seconds, meaning a more than two minute wait between green lights.

When using traffic sensors, Brooks said there was sometimes simply operator error. And for some drivers in Mid-MIssouri, it’s just personal.

“I’m impatient probably, when you’re trying to turn up and down these streets,” said one driver. “But it’s not that bad, really.”

In many cases, vehicles past the stop bar may not be picked up by cameras for loop sensors in the ground.

If you see any traffic signal malfunction, MoDot said it wants to hear from you. Technicians and engineers depend on drivers to alert them to problems.

To alert MoDOT to a problem, you can call them at 1-888-ASK-MODOT.

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