Tyler Hopes New Technology Will Ease Traffic Congestion
By JACQUE HILBURN-SIMMONS
Busy mom Aneysa Thedford spends a sizeable portion of every day in the car, battling Tyler traffic.
Her family lives in a Tyler subdivision off South Broadway Avenue near Target, but she relies on Loop 323 to run errands and shuttle children to extracurricular activities.
Since the city of Tyler started updating its traffic signal devices to try and iron out traffic snarls, she's noticed some improvement.
"I think the loop (traffic) is probably somewhat better, if you go the speed limit and time it right," she said. "Going straight, it's always easier, but because of the medians, lots of people need to do U-turns."
That's when things get complicated, she said.
Traffic stacks up. People turn in front of oncoming vehicles. Some signals cycle again and again, but few cars seem to move, she said.
"Some of the lights are horribly, horribly wrong," she said. "People are using back roads to get around. I know Tyler's growing, but the streets and roadways haven't grown with the population."
If all goes as planned, Tyler may be the first city in Texas to try out new traffic device technology on some of its busiest roadways in hopes of easing driver frustrations.
Officials said new adaptive controls use both cameras and radars to sense changes in roadway activity and trigger traffic signals to respond.
Traffic engineer Peter Eng believes the new equipment will be like having a traffic timing expert at every intersection who constantly adjusts the signals, based on real time traffic volume and patterns, rather than on historical data.
"Previously in 2007 the city of Tyler implemented its first adaptive controls on South Broadway," he said. "We are working on the fourth section . ... We hope to finish this project by the end of this year."
The Tyler City Council agreed last week to extend the adaptive controls to the North-Northwest Loop 323 corridor and these intersections: Robertson Road, Shaw Street, State Highway 31 West, State Highway 31 West, Lions Drive, State Highway 110 North, Silvercreek Drive and U.S. Highway 69 North.
The move echoes improvements at three other areas: North Loop 323 at West Gentry Parkway, U.S. 69 area; Southwest Loop 323 and Silver Creek area; and Loop 323 at Van Highway, Texas Highway 110, officials said.
The city's $158,240 investment could mean fewer headaches for Ms. Thedford and other motorists trying to navigate a city that more than doubles in effective population during the week as people report to work, seek medical care and attend college.
The next area slated for improvement centers on corridors running along Beckham Avenue and Front Street.
Eng said this new equipment is so sensitive it can detect oncoming vehicles from up to 600 feet away and immediately adjust the signals accordingly. It also records information relating to number of cars, speed and lane occupancy, capturing only data not visuals.
Since Tyler opted for adaptive control technology, officials said the results have been positive.
"We've seen significant improvement," Eng said, "Otherwise, we wouldn't be adding more."
Elected leaders appear eager for more good results.
"That (traffic congestion) is the No. 1 issue I hear about," District 4 Councilman Martin Heines said. "I'm ready to start No. 5."
Mayor Barbara Bass also supports the efforts.
"This is an improvement from where we started," she said. "What we had initially was collecting historical data."
Andrew Splawn, 26, of Whitehouse, has relied on Tyler's loop system for more than two years to reach his engineering job in Athens.
Splawn said he'd like to see a few overpasses added to the loop to even things out.
"I've noticed the traffic has grown by a lot by Old Jacksonville Highway, the 155 corridor, Broadway and 110," he said. "It seems like the timing worked for a little while. ... Texas is growing all around and its (adaptive controls) are only a temporary fix, like a Band-Aid."
Apparently fixing Tyler traffic does not solely sit with the city.
Tyler doesn't actually have responsibility for South Broadway Avenue or Loop 323, only the signals.
South Broadway, the loop and most others with a numerical designation are state highways and the responsibility of the Texas Department of Transportation, the entity that designed and installed Tyler's medians.
TxDOT spokesman Larry Krantz said people shouldn't expect overpasses along Tyler's loop, even though the agency's decades-old road plans call for them.
At a cost of $15 to $20 million each, excluding the cost of right-of-way acquisition, the price tag would be steep, he said, citing also limited access to the area for well more than a year.
"My favorite example is the Loop and South Broadway," Krantz said. "To have an overpass in that area, we would lose T.G.I. Friday's, the (First Christian) church, Coldwater Creek, IHOP, the Firestone Tire store by the mall, most of the mall parking lot and BJ's Restaurant."
Approach lanes also would extend well beyond Old Bullard Road, taking away even more access to homes and businesses, he added.
As for the medians, those were added to maintain order on the busy roadways and keep motorists safe, the spokesman said.
"We're open to new ideas," Krantz said. "We're getting close to outgrowing all the infrastructure in Tyler. ... I don't think anybody ever expected Tyler would get this big."
Any improvement, big or small, can't come soon enough for Charles Ware of Tyler, found Friday trying to leave the Westwood Shopping Center.
"You can't get out of here," he said. "We might have to wait 10 or 15 minutes to get out of the parking lot. Sometimes they (other motorists) will let you out. If not, you have to go through the parking lot" and find another way out.
Ms. Thedford said she plans to remain open-minded about any efforts to improve her family's driving experience.
"We spend a lot of time in the car," she said.