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County Will Expand Synchronized Lights to Help Traffic Flow

December 29, 1987|RICH CONNELL | Times Staff Writer

Responding to increasing public frustration with traffic congestion, Los Angeles County officials on Monday announced plans to create a five-year, $15-million program to improve the flow of vehicles on major arteries through greatly expanded synchronization of traffic lights.

Motorists would help offset the cost by being billed an extra dollar for vehicle registration.

If it receives final approval as expected in the next few months, county officials hope to complete the first phase of the program on sections of 10 thoroughfares across the county within 18 months. Hundreds of thousands of commuters use those streets each day.

Officials say the new systems should allow motorists traveling at the posted speed limit on selected boulevards to hit significantly fewer red lights. Reducing starts and stops should save time, fuel and reduce smog, officials said. "A lot of (the benefit) would be less frustration" for drivers, said Thomas Tidemanson, Los Angeles County's public works director.

Look at Surface Streets

Noting that lack of available land and high construction costs have made construction of additional freeways and highways in the Los Angeles urbanized area virtually impossible, Tidemanson said, "We are looking for ways to make (roadways) we have work more effectively and efficiently." Supervisor Mike Antonovich, who is pushing the program and described it at a downtown press conference with Tidemanson, said, "It's a common sense plan to alleviate congestion and avoid stagnation."

Synchronizing traffic lights is not new; cities have been doing it for years. But Tidemanson said the program is intended to coordinate traffic lights along major streets that cross multiple city boundaries. For example, one of the boulevards the county proposes to improve, Aviation between Imperial Highway in Los Angeles and Prospect Avenue in Hermosa Beach, passes through six different jurisdictions. The county would oversee contracts to synchronize such traffic lights, as well as provide matching grants to participating cities to install modern signal timing equipment.

High-tech equipment may be used to make the traffic flow even smoother, Tidemanson said. The county is experimenting with satellite-controlled traffic light timers that provide greater reliability over larger areas and can be accurately and quickly brought back into synchronization after a power outage. That has been a major problem with existing systems, he said. If a few traffic lights are "off by a few seconds, the whole system goes off," Tidemanson said.

Subject to Cities' Approval

Under a new state law, 43 cities in the county must endorse imposing the additional $1 vehicle registration fee for it to be collected. So far, 34 cities, including the City of Los Angeles, have officially agreed and Tidemanson said he expects other cities to act soon. The increased fee would be used to pay for certain freeway costs now paid by local governments, such as Los Angeles County's emergency call boxes.

The change would free up $1.5 million a year in county funds that could be used to expand synchronization of traffic lights. No city officials have yet pledged the matching grants needed to fund specific signal synchronization projects in their areas, Tidemanson said, but many have expressed interest.

Although not familiar with the details of the county proposal, Ed Rowe, Los Angeles city's acting transportation chief, said, "It might make a lot sense. . . . Those are the sorts of things this department has supported."

Tom Quintana, a spokesman for the City of Hawthorne, said officials there have "wholeheartedly" endorsed a countywide traffic synchronization program.

Tentatively, in addition to Aviation Boulevard, the county plans to install the first phase of the program along sections of Grand Avenue in Glendora-West Covina, Florence Avenue in Los Angeles and Huntington Park, Prairie Avenue in Hawthorne-Lawndale, Crenshaw Boulevard in Gardena-Torrance, Olympic Boulevard in Los Angeles, Washington Boulevard in Commerce, Slauson Avenue in Montebello, Soledad Canyon Road in Saugus, Kanan Road in Agoura and Glenoaks Boulevard in the San Fernando Valley.

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