You know the way the traffic lights work at most intersections in Modesto: They change from red to green if there is someone in that lane. For example, if I’m heading north on McHenry Avenue and reach Briggsmore Avenue, the left-turn light shouldn’t turn green unless there’s a car waiting to turn west. At the stoplights at B and Ninth streets in downtown Modesto (the signal there rotates between Ninth Street, both directions, to eastbound B and then westbound B), the sensors will skip the westbound B Street light entirely unless there are cars in those lanes.
Mike Stanfield of Modesto understands signal lights. He wrote about a problem intersection: Oakdale Road and Floyd Avenue.
“I use that intersection five or six times a week on my way home from work, so I’m pretty familiar with how the lights work,” he said. “For some reason, they will work nicely for a couple of months, responding to traffic conditions and not causing unnecessary delays, and then they will start running full cycles, regardless of whether any cars are there or not. Please, can you find an answer to why this happens?”
I contacted Jeff Barnes, Modesto’s traffic engineer. The traffic signals and equipment used to make them work are electronics, he said, and electronics wear out or are damaged and malfunction. In an earlier column, he noted that sometimes ants eat through the wiring insulation and cause the signals to short out. However, in this case, work done on Oakdale Road is the culprit.
Here’s what happened: When the contractor hired to replace the curb ramps and resurface Oakdale Road from Briggsmore to Floyd was doing his thing, the work cut the vehicle loop detectors for northbound traffic at the intersection. That cut was necessary to the work, Barnes said, and it won’t be repaired until warmer spring weather arrives.
“The project is in winter suspension,” Barnes said.
Before anyone asks, yes, the temperature has been in the 60s, but it dips too low at night for good paving results, Barnes said. If the contractor were to repave now, it probably would become bumpy in the future. If you’ve ever tried to lay concrete when it’s too hot or too cold, you understand the problem.
“When you’re going to have something that has to last for decades, you want them to do it when the weather is on their side,” Barnes said. “We, the public, are making an investment and we want it to be a good one.”
Yes, we do. But we’re not a patient people, especially when we’re sitting at a light waiting for it to turn green.
But until the job is completed, the northbound traffic lights will be “operating fixed-time,” Barnes said. In other words, they will go through the full cycle whether cars are in the lanes or not. That means folks driving south on Oakdale or east or west on Floyd could have longer wait times.
When that happens, take a page from Snow White and “hum a merry tune.” And be thankful that you’re not living anywhere between, say, Minneapolis and Atlanta, where record-low temperatures below zero with wind chills approaching minus-50 degrees made even short waits very painful ... and sometimes dangerous.
Here’s something positive you can do in the meantime:
“All traffic signals need regular maintenance,” Barnes said. “Our traffic electrical section electricians perform routine maintenance on a regular schedule, and they do find and correct operational problems, as well as physical damage. However, the public can help us by reporting or asking about problems they notice. The fastest response time for repairs will happen if they report their concerns to the traffic electrical section, at (209) 342-2297. The other place that they can notify is traffic engineering, at (209) 577-5468.”
So, there you have it. The traffic folks are waiting for your call. Don’t disappoint them.
Send questions to Sue Nowicki at firstname.lastname@example.org, fax to (209) 578-2207 or mail to P.O. Box 5256, Modesto 95352-5256.