Lexington-Fayette County, Ky.
Unlike many U.S. cities that are laid-out in grids, Lexington, Ky., relies on a “spoke-and-wheel” highway system to move traffic in and out of its fast-expanding borders. And, while that system once accommodated the city’s traffic, population growth has filled Lexington’s wheel to the bursting point.
“[Lexington-Fayette County] adds about 15 miles of new subdivision streets [each year],” says Ron Herrington, director of the county’s Division of Traffic Engineering, “and we have the same number of arterials.”
By the late 1990s, there were more registered vehicles in Lexington-Fayette County than people, Herrington says. Residents were complaining about gridlock, and the county’s traffic engineers were looking for creative solutions.
About that same time, the Division of Traffic Engineering found a new home — one that was large enough to house engineers and traffic staff in the same office — and the new arrangement sparked collaborations that the county never before could have imagined.
The result was a Traffic Management Center, complete with a studio from which to broadcast a live, television program about traffic; computers to control traffic signals, roadside signs, cameras and weather stations; two-way radios to communicate with police and firefighters; the equipment to host a traffic hotline; and a server to host a Web site with traffic information. Thus, the Traffic Management Center, which opened in May, became a nerve center for everyone who has an interest in the flow of Lexington’s traffic to share the best solutions for the county’s roadways.
At any moment, Lexington-Fayette’s traffic engineers are making real-time adjustments to traffic signals, working with on-call signal technicians to repair malfunctioning equipment, communicating with police to adjust signal timing during special events, and passing information to the team that produces a television show, “Crosstown Traffic.”
From 6:30 a.m. to 8:30 a.m., as many as 90,000 households can tune in to “Crosstown Traffic” and see what is happening on Lexington-Fayette’s roadways. The program includes real-time images from traffic-monitoring cameras; announcements about traffic conditions, including collision reports, lane closures and weather-related problems; regional travel information; and feature segments that explore such issues as drowsy driving. “Crosstown Traffic” combines the traffic expertise of the county’s Division of Traffic Engineering with the broadcasting expertise of the its Division of Government Communications.
The overriding themes of Lexington-Fayette’s Traffic Management Center are collaboration and communication. The center shares breaking traffic news with three television and 27 radio stations in the region. It also provides a traffic hotline and Web site, so residents can access vital information from almost anywhere.
To pay for the center, the Division of Traffic Engineering relied, once again, on collaboration. First, the Federal Highway Administration and Kentucky’s Transportation Cabinet provided 80 percent of the center’s $1.5 million bill. Next, the county used bond funds to install the center’s fire-suppression system; and, finally, the divisions of Traffic Engineering and Government Communications paid for the remaining personnel.
The investment was well worth the cost, Herrington says. For example, the regular traffic is flowing more smoothly, and the center now is able to mitigate traffic congestion during special events.
But some of the most important benefits of the new Traffic Management Center are how well traffic engineers and police are communicating with each other — and how children touring the center react. “[We show them] what we do to make it safer for them and their parents — and they go home and tell their parents about it,” Herrington says.
Agencies/companies involved: AllTel, Little Rock, Ark.; Econolite, Anaheim, Calif.; Federal Highway Administration, Washington, D.C.; Industrial Video, Cleveland, Ohio; Insight Communications Cable, New York; Kentucky Transportation Cabinet, Frankfort, Ky.; Lexington Area Metropolitan Planning Organization, Lexington; Lexington-Fayette County Urban County Government, Divisions of Traffic Engineering, Government Communications, Police, and Fire and Emergency Services; MCSI, Norcross, Ga.; Protronix, Bellshill, United Kingdom; Vicon, Lake Forest, Calif.; Viscount Video, Florence, Ky.