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New traffic lights for Main Street

Computerized system means changes for pedestrians, motorists

BRATTLEBORO—They’re sleek, they’re computerized, and they’re about to change the way we maneuver around downtown Brattleboro.

A new traffic control system went into full operation this week, and from the black mast arms arching over Main Street to the higher pitched chirping sound coming from the pedestrian crossing signal, it’s truly a new look and sound for motorists and others to get used to.

New lights, and the electronic control boxes running them, have been installed at the High and Elliot street intersections, as well as the infamous Route 5/142/119 intersection at the foot of Main Street known as “Malfunction Junction.”

“It’s definitely a lot more advanced than what was here before,” said Chris Barker, project engineer for the Vermont Agency of Transportation. “This ought to keep traffic moving smoothly.”

Bill McElroy of Moulison North Corp., the subcontractor installing the traffic signals, said the three control boxes on Main Street have the ability to communicate with each other and adjust the signals at each intersection based on traffic conditions as viewed from cameras atop the mast arms.

This means the traffic light cycles will change, he said. The flashing yellow lights seen downtown during the overnight hours will be a thing of the past, and likewise for waiting at an empty intersection and waiting for the lights to change.

If there is no traffic on the side streets, the lights on Main Street stay green. If a car arrives at an intersection, the lights will change.

The biggest change for pedestrians is that they will have to initiate the crossing signals by pushing a yellow button on the signal poles. With the end of pre-set light signal patterns, if you don’t push the button, “you’ll be standing there all day waiting for the light,” McElroy said.

Also, the pedestrian light has a countdown clock, so people will know how many seconds they have to safely cross the street.

As for the Malfunction Junction signals, McElroy said they have been tested and no problems were found.

“Like anything, it will take a few weeks to get used it,” said Selectboard Chair Dick DeGray of the new lights at Malfunction Junction. “We all sometimes have a lack of patience when we get in a car, but I’m optimistic that all this will work.”

With the new traffic lights, the first phase of the Main Street project comes to an end. According to Lane Construction Corp., the primary contractor for the project, the remainder of the downtown sidewalk repair and replacement work will be finished in the spring.

Installation of permanent pavement markings, pouring new sidewalk panels from below Mocha Joe’s to the intersection of Elliot Street, the removal of temporary pavement and the pouring of new sidewalk at the High Street intersection, and some pavement work in front of Adagio Restaurant are all set to be completed then.

Barker said he was pleased at how well things went with the Main Street project. “I’ve worked in a lot of towns around the state, and Brattleboro has been one of the better ones,” he said. “The people here have been great.”

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Originally published in The Commons issue #79 (Wednesday, December 8, 2010).

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