The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

January 4, 2013

'Smart' traffic lights on hold in Union County

By Evamarie Socha
The Daily Item

— LEWISBURG — Union County still is waiting for a green light from the state Department of Transportation to determine whether the county can spend $200,000 installing “smart” traffic lights along a stretch of Route 15 in Lewisburg.

The county may have to wait a while. Modifications to the Automated Red Light Enforcement Transportation Grant program were signed into law in July, creating a selection committee and expanding the program’s scope, said Erin Waters-Trasatt, PennDOT deputy press security.

“So the review process is longer due to additional requirements of the law,” she said. “We expect the governor to make some type of transportation funding announcement in the near future.”

That’s frustrating, said Shawn McLaughlin, director of the Union County Planning Commission, whose department met the June 30 filing deadline and solicited matching funds from East Buffalo Township and Lewisburg borough, the two municipalities affected by the project. Both agreed to contribute $10,000.

“It’s disappointing that it takes this long” to find out about the awards, McLaughlin said. “They didn’t tell us we didn’t get funded, so no news is somewhat good news. We’re still in the hunt” for the competitive grant, which tends to be given to more urban areas of the state.

No one official seems to know what the holdup has been on the Automated Red Light Enforcement Transportation Grant, which is funded through red-light speed enforcement camera fines collected in more populous, urban areas, mostly Philadelphia.

There isn’t a lot of money statewide for this particular program, McLaughlin said, and most of the money tends to go to more urban areas because “that’s where a lot of the problems are” regarding traffic congestion. “It just happens to be we have a series of intersections that behave like an urban transportation corridor,” he said.

Union County wants the higher technology signals to improve traffic flow at the intersections of Route 15 with Routes 45 and 192 and St. Mary Street, he said.

Better traffic signals are among the short-term priorities of the Route 15 Corridor Improvement Plan, meaning they are one of the more immediate improvements that can be done along the highway, McLaughlin said. The planning commission has led the corridor improvement effort.

The adaptive signal technology uses video cameras and computer software to see the traffic, how it’s cueing or backing up and which direction of traffic needs to move next. Other communities that use the system have seen 50 percent to 100 percent improvement in traffic flow efficiency.

Engineers involved with the Route 15 Corridor Project determined older signals that can’t keep up with the traffic conditions of the day have made for significant congestion at the three intersections. This also has made for traffic volume increases on the cross streets.

The waiting game does more than try patience, however. Grant applications are done using current-day figures, and a decision of a year later or longer could make for an underfunded project if costs increase.

“I know they get a lot of applications,” McLaughlin said. “But at the same time, if we took that much time at a local level to render a decision, it would be completely unacceptable by county commissions, municipal officials and citizens. On the state level, it’s apparently OK.”