The need to improve emergency communications with CU surfaced in the aftermath of an accident March 14 near mile marker 30 when a tractor-trailer rig overturned, forcing the closure of northbound lanes for several hours, according to Bart Borden, manager of CU’s Electric Division which inherited operation of the city’s traffic light network Jan. 1, 2011.
During this period, traffic was redirected onto Cleveland interchanges which worsened city bottlenecks during the late-afternoon rush hour. The accident occurred about 5:15 p.m., Borden said.
The division manager’s update came during a recent formal session of the Cleveland Board of Public Utilities.
“It is our understanding there were concerns as to why the ITS (Intelligent Traffic System) did not change the signal timing to help correct the massive influx of traffic from the interstate into town,” Borden advised.
The manager pointed out the ITS system was relocated to Cleveland Utilities a few months after the engineering and design responsibilities were transferred to CU. The public utility was asked to coordinate the traffic light network by the Cleveland City Council. Previously, traffic light coordination fell under the responsibility of a municipal traffic engineer.
“The ITS system did not have emergency timing plans in place for these types of events,” Borden said. “The system was funded by TDOT (Tennessee Department of Transportation) and the city of Cleveland.”
Since the I-75 accident, and on the day of Borden’s report to the board, Cleveland Utilities obtained an approximate estimate of $40,000 for an engineering consultant to design a plan for emergency settings for periods when traffic is diverted off the Interstate.
Even without the backup timing plan for an I-75 emergency, traffic flow along Huff Parkway benefited from prior traffic signal synchronization improvements already put into place by Cleveland Utilities and Cannon & Cannon consultants, Borden said. For the past year, the CU Electric Division has been working to improve traffic signal synchronization in key areas of the city.
CU General Manager Tom Wheeler pointed to the role these improvements played in accommodating the recent motorist influx.
“Even without the full-blown [$40,000] study, we’ve already made some improvements and they seem to help the roads clear,” Wheeler said. His reference was to synchronization changes made to Huff Parkway and 25th Street.
CU’s updated traffic timing plans were also aided by the work of utility engineer Tad Bacon, according to Borden.
“After we were notified by our employees that I-75 was closed northbound, our employee (Bacon) came in and made timing adjustments to the exit ramps at Exits 25 and 27,” Borden said. “The traffic video cameras were utilized to monitor the traffic volumes.”
Until such an emergency timing plan can be completed for I-75 traffic influx, communication and notification are vital, Borden stressed. CU is currently working with agencies like E-911, the Cleveland Police Department, the Tennessee Department of Transportation, the Tennessee Highway Patrol and others to establish a reliable notification system for future I-75 closures that might impact Cleveland traffic patterns.
Updates on the I-75 accident weren’t the only traffic light report made by Borden. Another key one involves Exit 20 and evening bottlenecks created near the Premiere Theater.
“A new timing plan was implemented at Exit 20 to reduce congestion when Premier Theater showings are ending,” Borden explained.
He said the new program cycle for the traffic lights at the Exit 20 ramps and the APD 40 bypass will run from 8 p.m. to 3 a.m.
“During these hours it is not necessary for the westbound movement (along APD 40) turning southbound onto I-75 to have the long protected green, so most of that time was given to the eastbound movement,” Borden explained.
He added, “We should see some great improvement on this at the theater.
School zone flashing
signs changing on Huff
Another traffic change is in the works for Huff Parkway. Borden said CU engineers are working with the Duracell plant facilities manager to locate a school zone flashing sign along Mouse Creek Road for E.L. Ross and Yates Elementary schools. Another school zone flashing sign will be installed just south of Huff Parkway on Mouse Creek Road and the school zone signs will be removed from Huff Parkway, he explained.
“This change will comply with MUTCD (Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices) school zone requirements and will allow for proper speed zones on Paul Huff Parkway,” Borden explained.
Borden said CU engineers have talked with the schools’ principals, crossing guards and the police department, and all favor the change.
on I-75/25th signals
Asked by a utility board member if CU is getting much feedback on the new traffic signals at the Exit 25 interstate ramps and 25th Street, Borden said public response depends on the motorist.
“We get a mix of very good comments and some negative comments depending on which direction you’re traveling,” Borden said.
Those coming off the interstate favor the traffic signals because it maximizes motorist safety, he said. Those traveling in either direction along 25th Street/Georgetown Road occasionally complain about the wait times. Borden said some feel it is an added inconvenience for 25th Street motorists.
Borden suggested certain road improvements in the area could also benefit traffic flow. But overall, “... it’s working better than I anticipated it would,” he said.