Green light, red light Traffic officials looking to link signals from Carson to Douglas

BRAD HORN/Nevada Appeal Traffic travels into Carson City and out toward Douglas County on Highway 395 near Topsy Lane on Thursday evening.

BRAD HORN/Nevada Appeal Traffic travels into Carson City and out toward Douglas County on Highway 395 near Topsy Lane on Thursday evening.

As is the case in most towns, traffic signals in Carson City and Douglas County have a tendency to create a hurry up to wait, stop-and-go type of traffic flow, with lights turning green just in time for frustrated motorists to progress a short way - to another red light.

It's not unusual. According to a report released this spring by a coalition of traffic organizations, including the Federal Highway Administration, more than 75 percent of the nation's 260,000-plus signals could be improved by updating equipment or adjusting timing.

The Nevada Division of Transportation, Carson City and Douglas County are planning to do just that along Highway 395 - Carson Street.

A joint project between the state, Carson City and Douglas County will synchronize the lights from Koontz Lane to Douglas County's Mica Drive and later to Plymouth Drive.

Carson City Deputy City Engineer John Flansberg said no timeline has yet been set, but he expects NDOT to finish a study of the highway and its signals by the end of the year.

Poor traffic signal timing accounts for 5 percent to 10 percent of all traffic delays, the highway administration estimates, and delays mean a slower flow, resulting in congestion.

Congestion is the specter that most spendy transportation plans aim to fix. New roads, freeways and more lanes all revolve around reducing congestion. But the highway administration says it would often be cheaper just to start with the signal adjustments.

Traffic signals are generally the purview of local governments, but since the highway and its signal system stretches across county lines, NDOT is taking a lead role.

"We're kind of making sure everyone is in agreement with this," said NDOT spokesman Scott Magruder.

The state transportation agency is also picking up the tab to wire independent signals together. The department has budgeted $179,800 for the project. It will be up to Carson City and Douglas County to time and maintain them in the future.

Some of Carson City's signals already are synchronized - those on Carson Street through downtown -but they're so close together, it's "real difficult to get progression," Flansberg said.

Will the overall synchronization of Highway 395 lights improve traffic on the city's main arterial?

"Initially, I'd have to say yes," Flansberg said.

"Obviously, by putting them together you will increase that flow," but without NDOT's report, it's impossible to say by how much.

Despite the national trend of ignoring traffic signal maintenance - the highway administration suggests signals be retimed every three years but reports suggest about two-thirds of the nation's lights haven't been adjusted in the last decade - Flansberg expects synchronization projects to become more common.

With the ever-increasing expense of adding lanes and building new roads, Flansberg said "a lot of jurisdictions are going to move in the direction of trying to improve operations first."

n Contact reporter Cory McConnell at or 881-1217.


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