Despite best efforts, some commuters seeing red
August 3, 2006
The Colorado Department of Transportation tweaked 14 stoplights on Highway 82 this summer to try to improve traffic flow, but some commuters report seeing more red than ever.CDOT installed “advance detection systems” in June at the approaches to the 14 traffic signals from West Bank, five miles east of Glenwood Springs, to Buttermilk, two miles west of Aspen. Small magnetic detectors were buried under the pavement about 500 feet away from the traffic signals.The new systems are intended to help in a couple of ways, according to Charles Meyer, a CDOT traffic engineer for the regional that includes the Roaring Fork Valley.First, they sense gaps in traffic so yellow lights can be triggered in a way that gives vehicles more time to stop. When traffic is going along at speeds greater than 45 mph, drivers have a tough time deciding what to do when a light turns yellow, Meyer said. Do they gun it or stop?In highway engineer parlance, there is a stretch right before the stoplight called “the dilemma zone,” he said.”Several years ago we noticed there were several rear-end accidents at some of these intersections, and we wanted to do something about it,” Meyer said. The pavement at nearly every intersection is also scuffed with black skid marks from near misses.CDOT was able to score a grant to try the advanced detection systems to reduce the rear-end crashes. The new systems try to trigger yellow lights when there is an absence of vehicles in the dilemma zone.The other benefit of the systems is supposed to be better traffic flow on high-volume Highway 82. Two weeks ago, timing at most of the signals was adjusted so that Highway 82 remained green longer than before. The green lasts until the detection system senses a gap in traffic or a maximum of two minutes is hit if there is no gap, according to Meyer.In theory, the traffic signals should provide more “green” time during morning and afternoon rush hours for Highway 82 commuters. “We hope that people do see it on a day-to-day basis,” Meyer said.But in the midvalley, locals officials are hearing just the opposite. Basalt Police Chief Keith Ikeda said several people have complained to him in the last week about getting consistently caught at red lights at each of the signals. “People say ‘Who controls the lights?'” he said.Basalt Town Hall has also fielded a few complaints, according to Town Manager Bill Efting.One regular commuter between Carbondale and Aspen swears the coordination between the lights became worse than ever in the past two weeks. He said he regularly gets stopped at all the Basalt lights.Meyer acknowledged without hearing those complaints that some bugs needed to be worked out of the system. “As always, when things go wrong we hear about it,” he said.At the El Jebel stoplight, not enough time was given for traffic on the busy side streets, so vehicles stacked up waiting to get onto or across the highway, he said. And at Willits and Highway 82, the detector wasn’t sensing vehicles on the highway so the side street got a lot of greens.CDOT spokeswoman Nancy Shanks said motorists can count on continued fine-tuning with the system. Highway 82 is difficult, she noted, because of the mixture of high-traffic volume, high speeds, and a large number of accesses and signals.Scott Condon’s e-mail address is email@example.com.