By Pat Cooper
There’s a saying that everybody complains about the weather but nobody does anything about it. The same could easily be said of traffic - and traffic in Peachtree City has been the topic of conversation, debate and dispute for some time. Anyone who drives though Peachtree City at rush hour will instantly name the intersection of Highways 54 and 74 to be the biggest bottleneck in the city.
Over the past year alone, there has been discussion of a traffic study, additional traffic lights and other traffic mediation methods. With ongoing interest building up the retail area around the city’s west side, it could be more imperative than ever to get a handle on traffic problems.
But it could be that, as a result of a request from city councilmember Vanessa Fleisch, that the Georgia Department of Transportation has come up with an idea that could help not only mediate the flow of traffic and improve wait times, it won’t cost the city a dime.
On Thursday morning, representatives from GDOT offered a possible solution to the traffic problem in a meeting organized by Fleisch.
According to GDOT State Signal Engineer Alan Davis and Michael Presley, District Traffic Signal Engineer, GDOT working in concert with the ARC will be doing a Responsive Signal System.
“We’re seeking long term and short term solutions to the traffic on the corridor. At the initial meetings we have given the traffic signal timings special attention with our resources at the district level. I’ve got one traffic signal timing person to cover 21 counties, ”said Presley. “We’ve got this corridor optimized to the best of our ability as far as short term solutions.”
Presley noted that even this program would be a short term endeavor, though it may maximize the efficiency of the corridor “but there are other discussions for long term solutions that would complement what else we need to do.
“I don’t want this to sound like the fix-all. It isn’t, but it will help.”
Davis continued that typically, with systems like the one in Peachtree City, all the signals “are talking to each other, working together, at the same time of day, with the same timing plan. That’s ideal.”
The most cost effective method is utilizing a ‘time of day’ plan, which looks at the traffic patterns at different times of the day.
“We’ll develop plans for the signal operation on the average assumptions. That works 75 to 80 percent of the time. But what happens when you have a busy shopping day or a special event or rain? One of the more advanced tools we use is a traffic responsive system.”
Simplifying it, Davis said there are sensors in the road that count the cars and how long the cars are sitting on the sensors. Based on algorithms we’ve developed it processes the information and implements the corresponding plan across the entire corridor.
“It’s a system we’ve used in a lot of really busy corridors in the metro-Atlanta area. It gets the most out of your existing system.”
Davis said the set-up isn’t that difficult and would require additional sensors in the road, which GDOT would install, good communication with signals along the corridor and either a central computer out in the field or in a central office position - city hall or the public works building- to process the data and send out commands to the rest of the system.
“And you need an engineer to come in and fine tune the system and develop plans- plans for when the system is running and for when the system goes down.”
With GDOT’s partnership with the ARC, a signal timing effort across the entire region. We’re not under contract for consultants yet.”
Davis said all the preliminary work is done and they should have a consultant in place by the end of the month.
“We have a program that can fund a lot of these programs through the ARC, so the good news is that Peachtree City won’t have to expend any more money on this.”
The official name of the effort is the Prioritized region wide Signal Timing Program.
“We’re still trying to come up with a good name for it.”
It’s funded through the ARC and the cost is approximately $12 million for the region and its main purpose is the optimalization of traffic signals for the purpose of congestion mitigation and air quality improvement, noted Davis.
“This is a program we’ve had in the past with the ARC and we’ve kind of expanded it to get more out of it. There are a lot of systems in the region that are run coordinated but don’t have functional equipment. To really get the most out of it, all your systems need to be working. We have a bit of flexibility on how we use this money to fix those things. This is an ideal project. I think it’s going to be very good to get the most out of the existing infrastructure.”
In all probability, taken into consideration the current equipment, city engineer Davis believes the only thing that will be necessary is to add additional loops and a master computer to run all the system.
“We would have an engineer come in and look at this and it would all be funded out of our office.”
There is also the possibility that the project could utilize the already existing Macon control center, which would be an ideal fit for the project.
Hoping to have the consulting engineers under contract quickly, Davis said he believes this could be the first task they are issued.
“We could be ready to hit the ground running no later than the first of December. The whole process will take anywhere from 15 to 20 weeks, to have it implemented and fine tuned.”
GDOT already utilizes similar systems along heavily traveled corridors in the metro-Atlanta area, including, Peachtree Road, State Routes 141, 92, 6 and 3, as well as on Tara Blvd. and State Route 85, Ponce De Leon and Moreland Avenues.
The entire program will start with data collection, including inventorying all the intersection configurations, signing and marking, as well as marked and unmarked crosswalk distances; inventory of all signal equipment and assets at each intersection; directional counts for seven consecutive days; turning movement counts and other data. This will be done before determining the optimal settings for the roadway.
In part, though, residents and city council may have to make a choice between optimal traffic on the major thoroughfares and the subsidiary cross roads.
The study will start at Willowbend Road in front of city hall and stop at MacDuff Parkway. If a signal is ever approved for the Line Creek area - which has been the sort of major conflict within the city and on the council- then GDOT will scope that into the overall traffic study. Though the study will, of course, be wrapped around Highway 54, Davis believes that great portions of Hwy. 74 will also be included.
“Though Hwy. 54 is your critical road, there will be other signals that interact with that corridor and affects how that corridor runs. We want to integrate them into the system.
“We try to balance delay at intersections as much as we can,” said Davis. “You don’t want to fly through your main line and wait two hours to get off your other roads. We don’t want those side streets to have too much delay. Some local jurisdictions want to put in some delay. It’s really user preference.”
“If the real concern is the through movement on 54,” added Presley, “you can adjust timing to give it preferential treatment during the peak hours. It’s sort of a local decision.”
Presley also noted that the Avenues shopping center is the “single most difficult intersection for plotting this corridor since there is no storage. There’s no place for the cars to go unless you want to block people coming out of parking places. There are still limiting factors to what we can do here.”
“There’s no magic bullet. A lot of the issues with the heavily traveled corridors has to do with management. In this case we already have limiting factors. Looking ahead, it’s good that there is renewed interest in it because maybe we can help plan it out a bit differently.
“That’s not uncommon. It takes situations like this to really gain focus to access management. For the purposes of this, we’re trying to optimize, the best we can, the signal timing with the existing limitations on the corridor.”
Presley said the other big discussion during the process is how much the city wants to delay travelers trying to gain access to the main corridor. The concept, he noted, is similar to ramp metering used on major highways in the Atlanta area.
Fortunately, considering the interest in developing the area, the program also has a maintenance portion that will allow GDOT and the city to react if the traffic pattern changes.
“It’s constantly being monitored by the system,” said Presley. “The difference between this plan and the one we have is, one, the timing will be adjusted to better fit the situation and, two, we’re going to add additional technology so the plan will kick in sooner and will react to traffic better than it does now.”
That data will be collected and, as a result, GDOT can put a better plan in place based on the historical data. This will allow the computer to react and trigger the plans quicker, rather than waiting on a specific time period.
City manager Jim Pennington said “this is a start point.
“This does not negate the idea that we still have to study that corridor. We don’t know when, but we want to see what happens with this. It could give us the data but at least it will be a start. There is a short term and a long term. We want to focus on the right things.”
Council also recently adjusted the city’s Core Infrastructure Special Local Option Sales Tax project list to include $500,000 earmarked for funding for the study and construction of transportation improvements to include “movement upgrades, signal upgrades and other fiscal corridor upgrades (including new roads) which may be needed to improve the operational movements of traffic throughout the city.
Davis said there is a part of the current program that can provide the city a portion of the information it needs that could stretch the dollars put aside for it.
Pennington noted that, subject to council approval, the city could start going forward with the study after the first of the new year.
HE also noted that there were only a few options for the city to look at if the SPLOST fails in November - either issuing G.O. Bonds, looking at the operational budget and determining if there’s going “to be new revenue or old revenue that’s going to be recycled. That means that there are some programs that will be gone. There are some interesting decisions for the next council to face. We’re already thinking of what could be done.
“GDOT,” he added, “has been really great to work with. They’ve been brining out some realities with these issues. We find out everything is not exactly like it should be, and we have to come up with a plan.”
And if that wasn’t enough incentive, noted Davis, his aunt lives in Peachtree City.
“She’ll let me know if it’s not working.”