Signal timing to help Hwy. 54W traffic, but DOT wants ‘real fix’


Clogged afternoon traffic on Ga. Highway 54 West might get a little better in the spring as state officials plan to upgrade the signal timing with a new system that will “adapt” as traffic conditions change.

The new “responsive signal timing system” will collect live data from traffic sensors in the road, and switch between various light timing cycles when traffic volumes on the highway reach certain levels, DOT officials told city representatives in a meeting last week. Each signal timing plan will be pre-programmed into a master control system that can be hosted remotely, with a fallback timing plan in case any sensor wires are cut during construction.

It could be as late as March before drivers will be able to see a difference, if they can distinguish any improvement at all, officials cautioned.

While state transportation officials have cautioned that the timing improvements will only go so far, they say the new system will provide data that can be helpful in conducting a traffic study of the highway aimed at divining necessary road improvements in the future.

And that is where the political hot potato lays. Mayor Don Haddix has vigorously opposed the traffic study, saying there’s not much more that can be done beyond adding a “cloverleaf” intersection at Hwy. 54 and Ga. Highway 74. Likewise, former council member and mayoral candidate George Dienhart has said he opposes spending city money on the project, which is what it will take to get the traffic study rolling. Mayoral candidate and current council member Vanessa Fleisch has said she supports funding such a study.

The new signal timing project, however, will be free of charge to the city, funded with money from the Atlanta Regional Commission which has expanded the program to help improve traffic flow in the 10-county metro Atlanta region.

DOT officials have said a traffic study is necessary to get any construction improvements funded in the regional traffic improvement program, as right now the county’s main project for such funds is the widening of McDonough Road from Hwy. 54 east of Fayetteville down into Clayton County.

The city reached out to the Georgia Department of Transportation several months ago and without Haddix’s blessing, Mayor Pro Tem Vanessa Fleisch signed a letter to GDOT seeking help with the traffic issue.

Afternoon drive time on Hwy. 54 is a particular sore spot on weekdays as westbound lanes can back up bumper-to-bumper all the way to City Hall at Willowbend Road.

The traffic light at The Avenue is a choke point for traffic in large part because cars leaving the shopping center can’t cue for a significant length before blocking in vehicles in other parking spaces, DOT District Traffic Engineer Michael Presley said last week in the meeting with city officials.

The new timing schemes will “maximize throughput” but the reality is that the road will need physical improvements in the future to improve traffic wait times, officials said.

Presley said a traffic study of the corridor, including Hwy. 74 as well, will be helpful in evaluating future operational improvements.

City Manager Jim Pennington said the idea of how much a traffic study might cost wouldn’t be ready perhaps until the first of the year, which dovetails well with the new political reality from the November election which will bring at least some new members to the city council.

The current council on a 3-1 vote authorized setting aside $500,000 in a proposed sales tax that will also be on the November ballot, with those funds being used for future road improvements and a possible corridor study. Haddix cast the lone vote in opposition, arguing the city needed the money to stay focused on road and cart path repair, which is what be funded with the lion’s share of the city’s $14 million sales tax proceeds. That, of course, depends on whether the countywide tax ultimately passes.

If the tax doesn’t pass, the city council will need to find a new source of revenue to fund some $1.5 million in road and cart path repairs that are necessary each year on average, according to city staff.