Alpharetta Signals Changing To Improve Traffic Flow

Released January 12, 2018 02:10 PM

The arrival of the New Year saw the City of Alpharetta launching its latest project to improve traffic flows through the North Fulton community.  Last week crews began upgrading traffic signal equipment with some of the latest technology that will allow the City to adapt the timing of its traffic signals in real-time to changing traffic volumes and patterns.

During the first week of the project, the City upgraded signals at 21 intersections to the new technology.  City engineers anticipate that all of Alpharetta’s 126 traffic signals will be upgraded by the end of March, at which time they will begin the process of finalizing the base timing for the signal network.

As crews install the new equipment at each intersection, the traffic signals at the intersection will be placed in “flash mode” and a police officer will be directing traffic.  Motorists should approach these intersections with caution and are reminded that, if a police officer is not directing traffic, a traffic signal flashing red should be treated like a stop sign.

“This upgrade to our traffic signal equipment will have a significant impact on our residents and motorists traveling in Alpharetta,” said Mayor Pro Tem Chris Owens.  “Our current systems work off of fixed timing programs covering ‘typical’ traffic patterns for mornings, daytime and evenings.  It does not easily allow our engineers to adjust and adapt when non-typical situations occur like vehicle crashes, special events and other things that cause motorists to change their travel routes to avoid trouble spots.  When the project is completed this Summer, the new technology will allow our signals to self-adjust based upon traffic volumes.”

According to Owens, a civil engineer who also serves as the liaison to the City’s public works department, even minor traffic accidents currently can create major congestion at key intersections and send ripples through Alpharetta’s streets and roads.  As drivers increasingly turn to mobile apps like Waze to learn about and avoid trouble spots during their commutes, traffic patterns have become less predictable and traffic choke points constantly move during peak commuting times.

“Today, the only real way to be proactive in managing the flow of traffic is to be more responsive to what the majority of drivers are doing at any given moment,” says Owens.

The equipment being installed across Alpharetta this year will also help to improve the City’s ability to know how motorists are driving through its intersections.

Currently, engineers rely on detectors embedded in the road at intersections to provide information about the number and movement of vehicles at that location and trigger their signal timing programs.  Being mechanical systems, however, those detectors break causing the timing of signals they control to be out of sync.  With over 126 traffic signals in Alpharetta, days can pass before the problem is identified and fixed.

The technology now being installed by the City of Alpharetta will immediately alert traffic engineers to a problem with the vehicle detectors at an intersection so that repairs can be quickly made.  The systems will also alert engineers to malfunctioning signals and pedestrian crossing equipment.

The City has partnered with the Georgia Department of Transportation (GDOT) to complete the traffic signal upgrades, and officials are quick to express appreciation to GDOT leaders and Senator Brandon Beach for supporting the effort.  GDOT is fully funding the cost of the equipment.

While the technology upgrades are expected to noticeably improve traffic flow in the city, Owens stresses that it is not the only effort the City is making to address residents’ top concern.

“There is no silver bullet that will eliminate traffic congestion in Alpharetta,” Owens stated.  “Significant change will come only through a combination of operational changes and improvements to the road network.  That is why, in addition to these improvements to our traffic signals, the City of Alpharetta is also making physical improvements to key roadways like Rucker Road, Webb Bridge Road, Kimball Bridge Road and Windward Parkway.  We have also set aside funding to partner with the Georgia Department of Transportation to expand Old Milton Parkway and add much needed capacity to that State highway.”

Alpharetta currently has in excess of $80 million earmarked for such improvements to its roadways; according to Owens more money than at any other moment in the city’s history.  Still, city officials are pursuing additional funds and partnerships with state and federal agencies and organizations like the North Fulton Community Improvement District to focus even more resources on making traffic improvements that benefit residents and visitors.

“Over the past two years we have been planning and designing key projects that will bring relief to our residents’ daily commute,” said Owens.  “Starting this year construction will begin on many of those, and residents will begin seeing their benefits over the next two to five years.