During the February winter storms in Texas, the City of Irving’s Traffic and Transportation Department used proactive measures to keep hazardous road conditions to a minimum for drivers and emergency personnel. The city was instrumental in extending traffic signals 16 to 18 hours into the winter weather event thanks to the Traffic Operations Center (TOC) — one of Irving’s largest smart cities initiatives — and the traffic signal battery backup system.
Construction on the TOC began in 2017. Since then, the city has installed 100% of its planned back-up batteries — 210 in total. Currently, the city is in maintenance mode with the program, including replacing batteries and testing the system annually.
The Traffic and Transportation Department keeps the traffic signals working with as little interruption to service as possible. Additionally, the department aims to mitigate unnecessary police and fire calls for traffic control at intersections.
In February, 109,000 minutes of battery power were used, while in the month before, the city used 1,249 minutes of battery power.
The battery backup system can withstand extreme temperatures and is a reliable tool to keep signals in operation during power outages. The backup power supply keeps traffic signals operating for six to eight hours and then in flash mode for four hours.
Many drivers may be unaware of how to proceed in a dark intersection with no operating traffic lights. Additionally, if a driver is distracted and there are no flashing red lights, they may continue through the intersection without braking or stopping. During the winter storm, while streetlights, homes and businesses lost power, many Irving intersections relied on the battery backup program to flash red lights for a four-way stop. This was especially critical to emergency services, which were already facing a high volume of dispatch calls.
Before the TOC and the installation of backup batteries, drivers would notify dispatch if traffic lights were not operating, and emergency services personnel would notify the Traffic and Transportation Department to send a technician to the scene.
With the TOC now in place, traffic signal technicians can monitor all parts of the system remotely with a laptop. This remote monitoring helps staff identify opportunities for improvements to signal operations. Automatic notification of signal malfunctions, including power outages and flashing operations, alert on-call personnel outside of normal working hours so they can swiftly address the issue.
The new program has prevented 85% to 90% of after-hour calls to a traffic technician.
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