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Thursday, June 9, 2011

Hundreds of Complaints Drive Traffic Light Reprogramming

Hundreds of Complaints Drive Traffic Light Reprogramming:
Gridlock alleviated along Grasmere Ave. by new Whole Foods
By Mike Lauterborn
(Posted to 6/9)
© 2011. All Rights Reserved.

Fairfield, CT – The complaints were fast and furious, rolling in by phone, in person and email, all about the traffic tie-ups occurring almost around the clock over the past month along Grasmere Avenue by the newly opened Whole Foods Market.

The culprits were three traffic lights, at Grasmere and Kings Highway East on the north side of the railroad bridge, Grasmere and Kings Highway East on the south side of the railroad bridge and Grasmere at the entrance to Home Depot. While appropriately installed, the programming of the lights was based on traffic forecasts and set on a coordinated vs. actuated timer, meaning that lights changed on a clock rather than in response to actual traffic flow.

Thursday morning, officials from the Fairfield Police Dept., Fairfield Asst. Fire Chief Stephen Curry, Town Engineer Bill Hurley, state engineers, a private consulting firm and Arthur Hersch, chairman of the police commission, all came together onsite to collaborate and find solutions.

“We’re here to try to mediate the problem,” said Sgt. Suzanne Lussier, standing with the group at the corner of Grasmere and Kings Highway East on the north side of the bridge. “The lights need to be resynched and timing changed to alleviate the commuter and routine traffic backlog that’s here. We organized all the professionals today to reevaluate the conditions. If we don’t rectify the problem now, it will be exacerbated.”

The lights were first installed in January 2011 and put in a blinking mode initially so that area residents could get acclimated to them and used to traffic patterns around the new Whole Foods and train station facility. The lights then went into full operation about a month ago.

“Since they went on, we’ve had hundreds of complaints, from residents, commuters, business owners and emergency services that can’t get through,” said Fairfield Police Lt. Jim Perez. “It’s a dangerous situation that we didn’t foresee. It’s hard sometimes to know the outcome, and patterns change according to the time of day. The police commission made decisions at the time based on information they had.”

Perez said 20 to 25 cars have often been in line in all directions at certain times of the day, and all day from the Post Road to Grasmere bridge and from Westie’s Storage traveling east to Grasmere Ave. “We had reports of people making u-turns, which causes anxiety and could lead to real problems,” he said.

“It’s infuriating everybody,” said Commissioner Hersch. “We want to try to correct the situation now before the railroad station comes into play, or the traffic will get out of control.”

“And there will be a lot of late slips in the city,” half-joked Perez, who added, “The engineers will be here as long as it takes. Any decision affects all the light coordination.”

As he spoke, Don Halberg, a project coordinator from Marlin Controls in Danbury, busily reprogrammed the computer inside the traffic control box at the corner. “I’m adjusting the timing and sequence of the lights based on what the engineers recommend,” he said. “The original traffic counts may have been a little off. Now, with more stores opening, more traffic is being attracted, which affects the timing. I think it’ll run smoother now – snappier with faster response time and less back-up.”

That was particularly good news for the fire department’s Stephen Curry. “We have a pre-emptive device that can change the lights to green in the direction of travel during an emergency call, which makes it safer in response mode. The sensors were off and had to be fine-tuned. Our other issue was the gridlock that was jamming up the intersection, which was making passage difficult for our vehicles.”

Overseeing the process as a professional courtesy was Joe Ouellette, in the traffic division of the Connecticut Dept. of Transportation. “We’re all concerned about safety and keeping traffic moving,” he said. “The DOT and town talked about solutions and are implementing them here today. They were essentially timing challenges. Sometimes you have to make field adjustments. It just needed tweaking, it’s fairly common.”

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