Installation of adaptive traffic system on U.S. 29 depends on CTB vote

When the Commonwealth Transportation Board meets this week to consider a $203 million package of improvements on U.S. 29 in Albemarle County, it also will decide the fate of a network of adaptive traffic signals designed to speed the flow of through-traffic in the region.

Albemarle officials have been planning for almost two years to implement Rhythm Engineering’s InSync technology on U.S. 29 following an installation on U.S. 250 on Pantops in 2012.

Earlier this year, local officials were told by the Virginia Department of Transportation that the system was expected to be installed by August. However, county executive Thomas L. Foley told the Board of Supervisors earlier this month that VDOT will not begin installing the equipment until after the CTB takes its vote.

“Hopefully, the money that is in that recommendation of the advisory panel will be enough to address the cost,” Foley said. “We are not 100 percent sure.”

So far, the county has allocated $360,000 to pay for cameras and software for the project. The county’s portion had a cost estimate of $ million in January but the price increased after VDOT determined other equipment at intersections needed to be replaced to accommodate the system.

While VDOT has not provided a full cost for the project, the funding gap will be covered if the CTB votes to approve a list of recommendations made by former VDOT Commissioner Philip Shucet for alternative ways to spend $200 million allocated for the now-defunct Western Bypass of U.S. 29.

“As part of the Route 29 Solutions effort, it was recommended that an additional $3 million be contributed to the county’s adaptive signal project,” said Lou Hatter, area spokesman for VDOT.

As of May, the InSync system has been installed at 861 intersections in 153 corridors across the United States, according to the Rhythm Engineering website.

Among those corridors is a section of U.S. 29 on the eastern side of Lynchburg known as Wards Road. The commercial street connects two limited-access highways.

John DeBerry, Lynchburg’s transportation engineer, said that before the system was installed, it would take him 20 minutes to get through the seven traffic signals.

“Now you blow through there, and so I would say the progression between the [Lynchburg Expressway] and [U.S.] 460 is very good and that’s because of the system,” DeBerry said in an interview.

However, DeBerry said some people who use the side streets have complained because the system no longer works on a predictable schedule.

Instead, signals are adjusted by the software as it scans the network as a whole to grant green lights on side streets when there are gaps in through-traffic.

“If what you’re trying to do is more through-traffic through a number of signals without crossing any major arterial, my guess is it would work well,” DeBerry said. “When you have major intersections where both roads are heavily traveled, it’s more difficult. You need more capacity to make the intersections work.”

Charlottesville plans to invest in an adaptive network of its own, but Hatter said that would be a separate project.

“VDOT is developing and administering the project for the section within Albemarle County,” Hatter said. “VDOT is providing technical support to the city but they are administering the project for the section within the city limits.”

Hatter said VDOT will present more details on the system to county officials in August, pending the CTB vote.

One Albemarle developer said in an interview that he wishes the CTB would vote to approve the adaptive system before agreeing to spend $81 million on a grade-separated interchange at U.S. 29 and Rio Road. That project, as well as $10 million to study a similar project at Hydraulic Road, also are up for a vote this week.

“Installing the adaptive system alone, as well as the widening of U.S. 29 from the river, I think we could knock out a huge amount of congestion,” said Chuck Lebo, of Lebo Commercial Properties.

Former Supervisor Dennis S. Rooker lobbied for the county to adopt the signal system when he was still in office. He said he’s hopeful installation can move forward swiftly if the CTB votes to approve it this week.

“This has certainly dragged on longer than anyone expected,” Rooker said. “It needs to get done this summer before the students return.”