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Did you know, some bay area cities know even before you do if a light is acting up or needs to be retimed? Even more surprising is that, for the most part, Tampa is not one of them.

On a recent visit to Tampa's "bat cave" of traffic monitoring, or the City of Transportation department's Channel District office, Traffic Design Engineer Mike Scanlon showed me the advanced traffic monitoring system that the city is working to install and implement at Tampa's many traffic signals. Using this system, signals would essentially "tattle" on themselves if they ceased to function properly.

The problem is, this isn't really the system the Tampa Transportation Department uses, at least not at most of their roughly 530 traffic signals.

Tampa Transportation Manager Jean Duncan told me,"Our current system is quite old. It was high technology in the 30s."

In fact, the system is DOS-based and does not send alerts when a signal has gone haywire. However, the new software does exist in-house, so the question arises what is holding up Tampa's progression out of the 30s and into today's technological climate.

Jean tells me, the answer comes down to dollars: dollars to purchase and install the necessary hardware all over Tampa - dollars that just aren't there.

Jean and her team have managed to pull together the funds to purchase the system and install it at a few intersections, but knowing that they probably won't see a huge windfall of cash anytime soon, they are putting together a phasing and funding plan similar to the one Pinellas County is already using to roll out their advanced system.

But, as the old adage goes, "it takes money to make money," or in this case, to save money.

Jean says there are multiple ways to measure the cost-benefit of the new system, and luckily, Hillsborough County did some of the city's legwork already. Based solely on emissions and quantifiable delay, the annual savings could be $122 million per year, but Jean says it's probably even more than that.

As of right now, if people didn't call in malfunctioning lights, the city might never know. Jean also says that frustration over sitting at malfunctioning lights can become a safety issue as frustrated drivers tend to make unsafe choices.

Several counties and cities are ahead of Tampa in their ATMS (Advanced Traffic Management Systems) roll-outs - Pinellas, Pasco, Polk, Manatee and Sarasota counties along with the cities of St. Petersburg and Temple Terrace, but Jean says that most of those areas have considerably fewer lights to outfit.

The Tampa Transportation Department is planning to begin construction installing the ATMS hardware on roughly 90 lights between the bay and Himes Avenue next year, but in order to expedite a citywide roll-out, they need the system to be designated as a high priority with a county leadership planning group.

Here's how you can help: contact the city of Tampa either by phone at (813) 274-8251, post a message at facebook.com/tampagov or send an email via the city website, www.tampagov.net. Tell them you are TIRED of sitting at malfunctioning lights.

Other benefits of ATMS:

  • can be programmed to work with first responder vehicles
  • can be programmed to work with the Metro Rapid bussing system, expediting mass transit
  • send texts, email alerts when signals malfunction
  • can be reprogrammed easily remotely
  • zones can be assigned for specific special events and conditions so that a few button clicks can change the city over to event timing within seconds
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