An integrated system to control all of the traffic lights along the U.S. 29 corridor in Albemarle County and Charlottesville will be installed this summer, but the final cost is not yet known.
“Our goal is to have that troubleshooting done prior to [University of Virginia] students coming back in the fall for their next session,” said Teresa Gardner, a traffic engineer with the Virginia Department of Transportation
City and county staff are working with VDOT on a plan to install software, cameras and other equipment from Rhythm Engineering that will continuously adjust signal times at nearly three dozen intersections based on real-time information.
“One of the benefits of the adaptive control system is that it works in real-time and addresses demands on the fly,” said Gardner, who serves as the project manager. “It’s looking at what’s happening at each intersection.”
Gardner presented an update on the system to members of the Planning and Coordination Council’s technical subcommittee earlier this month. That body facilitates planning between Charlottesville, Albemarle County and UVa.
VDOT installed the system on U.S. 250 on Pantops in the fall of 2011 as part of a statewide pilot program to test the technology.
“The U.S. 250 corridor in Albemarle County/city of Charlottesville indicates the most dramatic improvements of those in the adaptive signal statewide pilot study,” said Michael Clements, a signal systems program manager with VDOT.
Travel times were reduced by as much as four and a half minutes during peak periods, Clements added.
The preliminary cost estimate for Albemarle is $1.24 million, half of which will be covered by funding from VDOT. A cost for the city’s portion has not yet been determined.
The system depends on access to broadband Internet, and the team is in the process of deciding whether radio communications or a wired connection would be better. That will help determine the final cost.
The idea was championed by former Albemarle Supervisor Dennis S. Rooker as a way of alleviating traffic congestion along the corridor.
“Installation of a state-of-the-art adaptive transportation system on U.S. 29 is by far the most cost effective transportation improvement that the area could make,” Rooker said “It is something that I worked on for two years before retiring from office, and the Board of Supervisors supported it unanimously.”
The goal of the system is to help speed up traffic flow and safety.
“Theoretically, you have less stop-and-go conditions, so you have fewer opportunities for accidents,” Gardner said. “It also helps reduce emissions and fuel consumption.”
Gardner said the system likely will have more of an impact on off-peak hours.
“They may see a benefit during peak periods but on some of your busier cross-routes, it could be a little challenging to see a difference,” Gardner said.
Three side streets will be monitored — Rio Road, Woodbrook Drive near Lowe’s and Hilton Heights Road near Walmart.
“The reason we chose those three side streets is because of heavy volumes and the proximity of the signals to the 29 corridor,” Gardner said.
The system also will extend to two traffic signals on Ivy Road within city limits.
VDOT’s research arm at UVa will perform a before-and-after analysis to determine the signal system’s effectiveness.
VDOT still has to finalize details with city officials. Jim Tolbert, Charlottesville’s director of Neighborhood Development Services, confirmed that the city is in negotiations.