This may not come as news to you, but the traffic signals on Montana are pretty dumb.

“Dumb as dirt,” City traffic engineer Henry Servin said of four traffic signals on the street slated for replacement. They may be dumb, but they have been loyal – steadily operating 24 hours a day since 1977 until recent rains caused the 7th Street signal to become “functionally obsolete.”  Together, the four signals represent two-thirds of repair calls citywide and replacement parts for them are no longer manufactured.

This week the City will begin the coring, drilling and jackhammering to replace the vintage signals at 7th, 4th, 11th and 14th Streets with newer, smarter models. The new technology already in many intersections across the City can learn traffic patterns and extend green lights for bicyclists and large trucks that may need extra time to brake.

The four new signals will cost about $1.1 million dollars to purchase and install. While construction starts this week, expect construction and delays to last all summer before finishing near the end of August.

“The signals are adaptive, meaning they learn overtime so if there’s primarily westbound movement on Montana on a weekday commute, the signal learns to accommodate groups of traffic,” Servin said.

Servin says the traffic signals can be adjusted to respond to their place in the City. For example, the signals downtown are timed to accommodate large groups of pedestrians. The signals on Colorado anticipate the Expo Rail and commercial trucks. On Montana, they will strike a balance between the needs of the commuters, the cyclists and the bus drivers.

“There are cameras that sense the user and if a bicycle approaches the green time will be extended to safely allow the bicyclist to cross the intersection,” Servin said.

The cameras are only used for video detection and do not record or store data in accordance with the City’s agreement with the FBI, according to Servin. They do, however, allow the signals to adjust their settings to meet the needs of traffic.

In February, heavy rain and saturated soil at Montana Avenue and 7th Street caused the underground wiring conduits to fail and throw the signal into red-flash mode, according to a recent staff report on the signals. Crews dug under ground and discovered much of the conduit had rusted away.

The entire intersection hardware will be replaced this summer, including poles, signals, and underground electronics. Temporary traffic signals will be put into place during the next five months of construction.

kate@smdp.com

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