In early 2010, then-Vice Mayor Jeff Banyas leaned forward from his perch during a City Commission meeting and praised Traffic Engineer Anthony Todd on a presentation regarding the city’s traffic congestion and what plans were in the pipeline to address the problem.
Todd had just finished debuting a roughly $3.6 million Intelligent Traffic System project. Now, after three years of patiently waiting for things to fall in place, Johnson City’s Traffic Division is nearing the implementation of that project. City commissioners likely will review a contract at their April 18 meeting.
The project will employ fiber optic/Ethernet into an interconnected system that operates traffic signals and cameras and sends visual and other information back to the division’s office. There, engineers can observe traffic patterns and manipulate signal timing to allow for better flow. The system includes 43 high-tech cameras that rotate to give engineers an expanded, real-time view of heavily traveled corridors.
“By using the system, you can see a bigger picture of how traffic is flowing,” Todd said. “The cameras are for monitoring traffic. You want to be able to see if traffic is progressing or if it is backing up. The digital technology also will allow us to do traffic counts. The information will go back to the central office, where traffic technicians will view it on a number of monitors with split screens.
“We will be able to detect a change in traffic and remotely change the timing of traffic signals. If there is a special event, instead of having to have an officer on scene for hours, we can adjust the signal timing. Fiber optic is the only way we can do this. Also, people will be able to go on the city’s website and view what’s on the monitors, and the police and fire departments also will utilize it.”
Fiber optic communication allows transmission of information from one place to another by sending pulses of light through an optical fiber. The optical fibers will replace old copper wire that’s now in place. Ethernet is now the dominant data delivery technology.
Last week, city commissioners pulled from the agenda consideration of a bid for the project by Pennsylvania-based Gannett Fleming Project Development Corp.
“The Tennessee Department of Transportation ruled the company ineligible for not meeting contractor licensing requirements,” said Phil Pindzola, Public Works director. “Commissioners will now be reviewing a second bidder. But this looks like it will happen. And when the system is in place, people will be impressed. Right now TDOT and the city are reviewing the bid.”
When a bid is accepted, Nashville’s Gresham, Smith and Partners likely will provide oversight of construction of the new system. The same company has been the city’s consultant and has drawn up plans for the project. It also put together bid specifications.
The Federal Highway Administration is providing 80 percent of the cost. The state and Johnson City each will provide 10 percent matches. Todd said this equates to about $400,000 for the city.
He hoped that TDOT would have approved the FHA money in time to send out a bid in 2010 and begin implementation in 12 to 18 months.
Video cameras — not red light cameras — for traffic signal management were first installed at the West Market Street and North State of Franklin Road intersection in 2000. Today, about 20 intersections are being “tracked” by the city’s police department via video cameras.
The Traffic Division’s new system will incorporate a fiber optic network that initially hooks up to 43 cameras at intersections along State of Franklin, University Parkway, Roan and Market streets.
The “command center” won’t have the capability to rebuild roads or teach people how to negotiate new roundabouts.
“What it will do is enable us to look at an entire corridor on numerous screens and allow us to troubleshoot problems from a central location,” Todd said. “Instead of looking at spots, we can look at what’s going on up and down the system. It also will include software that will help us know more quickly the traffic volumes, how much ‘feeder’ roads are being backed up or cleared up when we tweak the system.”
Todd and his staff have been physically traveling to various intersections to observe and take notes regarding traffic patterns.
“Obviously, we’ve got some heavy traffic volumes,” he said. “Our arterial streets (branch-like through roads) are intended to carry traffic for longer distances and with less interruption, but they’ve become more or less a place to collect and to direct traffic. Our roadway network does not have a lot of interconnection when you get off main roads. What you end up with is a variety of ‘slows’ and stops.”
Johnson City is not Los Angeles. But relative to its population, congestion is an everyday reality. In fact, Todd crowned the State of Franklin corridor “the most pronounced” when it comes to the traffic technicalities that need debugging.
He cited three main segments where traffic continues to be a handful: the State of Franklin and Med Tech corridors and the West Market Street and State of Franklin intersection.