Synchronized traffic lights coming soon to busy Merced streets

Any driver who takes G Street, Olive Avenue, Yosemite Avenue, M Street or 16th Street during their morning commute or other peak hours knows the pain of sitting in traffic while watching the clock tick closer to punch-in time at work. These are just a few streets that come to mind. I’m sure there are others giving Mercedians a headache.

So when a reader called in asking when the traffic lights in Merced were supposed to be synchronized, I was excited to find out.

Q: When will the streetlights be programmed on 16th Street, G Street and Olive Avenue to be synchronized?

A: This is actually in the works to happen much sooner than I expected.

Ken Elwin, the city’s engineer and interim public works director, said the project is expected to be completed sometime in March.

“The goal is to shave off seconds and get traffic flowing through major traffic corridors during peak hours,” Elwin said.

Currently, the city is waiting on some equipment that’s expected to be here by the end of this month. Work is tentatively scheduled to begin the first week in February by the construction firm St. Francis Electric out of San Leandro.

Construction will cost about $226,000, Elwin said. The city received grant funding from the U.S. Department of Transportation for the project, which will reduce the time cars spend idling and help improve the air quality.

Synchronization will be based on distances, existing traffic and speed limits on roadways. Say you’re driving down G Street and hit the stoplight on Alexander Avenue as it turns green. By the time you reach Olive Avenue, that light should be turning green so you can drive through the intersection and not have to stop.

Last year, the city hired Stockton-based Kimley-Horn and Associates Inc. to conduct studies on the project, including counting vehicles and getting existing times on traffic lights.

Traffic lights planned for synchronization include those on 16th Street between R and G streets, as well as the ones on G Street between 16th Street and Yosemite Avenue.

Traffic lights on G, M and 16th Streets along with Olive Avenue are “somewhat” synchronized already, Elwin said.

The Sun-Star previously reported that before this project, the streets had not been analyzed since 2006, before the G Street underpass existed. But even those that are synchronized lose time eventually, much like an old clock that slows down when the batteries wear out.

When this project is complete, it will serve as the backbone for a more complex and exact system, with advanced technology. The system will set the stage for the future, when staff can monitor traffic in real time with cameras, monitoring it remotely when backups occur, Elwin said.

“It’s more of a live system,” he said.

Elwin said the city hopes to go after more grant funding to complete the full system in the future.

Maybe I’m easily impressed, but that sounds pretty cool to me.

In other, less important news: I have a new email address. You may have noticed previously that my byline and email address did not match. I apparently had two different last names. That’s because it took a while for things to get caught up with my new last name after I was married in September. But now, everything matches. So please take note of the new email address if you plan to contact me that way. I look forward to hearing from readers.

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