City working to improve traffic light synchronization in East Baton Rouge Parish

Updated: Nov. 13, 2019 at 5:56 PM CST
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BATON ROUGE, La. (WAFB) - The city-parish is preparing to install new, internet-capable controllers in half of the city’s traffic lights this winter.

East Baton Rouge manages roughly 500 traffic lights throughout the parish, about half of which are already connected to the city’s network. The rest require manual timing changes, one-by-one.

“(The new system) lets us look at corridor-wide implementation of changes,” chief traffic engineer Ingolf Partenheimer said. “We don’t have to look at each one individually, which may take a week or a month, depending on how many counts we have to do manually.”

In addition, the city will bore new sensors in the ground that can detect how many cars are at a given intersection at any time. Traffic engineers can then adjust the timing of the connected lights in real-time to account for unusually heavy days, accidents, or emergencies.

The engineers will bank that data to inform long-term timing adjustments that maximize the number of vehicles arriving at a light after it’s turned green, for example. Eventually, the computers inside the sensors will be able to make the adjustments themselves through machine-learning.

Under the old system, the city-parish sent engineers to some intersections to manually count the number of cars passing through.

“Obviously, we can’t have greens in every direction - but we can mitigate what we can,” Partenheimer said. “That should get as many people through as possible.”

Partenheimer says Baton Rouge will be among the first southern cities to implement a system this advanced at a scale this large. The goal, he says, is to inform drivers exactly how long their commutes will take in real-time using new technology.

Workers will need to drill new conduit lines into the ground at various traffic cabinets and install new controllers with ethernet ports inside. Partenheimer says drivers will not notice most of the work.

He says it may be between two and three years before all of the lights are connected and synchronized, but that drivers should notice incremental improvements as new technology replaces old.

Internet-capable lights could also allow law enforcement to change lights in emergency situations, though it’s unclear how much system control the city-parish will give emergency personnel. The new lights will also have battery-backups, which should prevent outages and gaps in information.

Partenheimer says the new system will also better-prepare Baton Rouge for smart, driverless vehicles that communicate with each other.

In December 2018, voters approved a half-cent sales tax that will go toward’s EBR’s plan to relieve traffic congestion in Baton Rouge, Baker, Zachary, and Central. The half-cent sales tax increase through 2049 will raise around $1 billion.

To view a list of the projects included in MoveBR, go here.

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