VALPARAISO | Even stoplights blink a bright red and green, and, in the downtown area, they do it much more energy efficiently now and with battery backups.
The downtown signal modernization project is complete, and the city was able to add some features that enhanced the original plans. To complete the work, the city was allocated $687,500 through the Northwestern Indiana Regional Planning Commission with 80 percent ($550,000) covered by federal funds and $137,500 paid by the city's Redevelopment Commission.
The bid for the work was just under $600,000, so the city was able to add nearly $13,000 in additional features. The city also paid $81,110 to the Troyer Group to serve as construction inspector, while still staying within the limits of the grant.
The project included the signals on Lincolnway from Campbell Street to Morgan Boulevard, the new signals at Morgan and Jefferson Street and at Monroe Street and Washington Street and the light at Indiana Avenue and Washington. They were all upgraded to LEDs, interconnected wirelessly and the battery backups added.
"When we started the project, Lincolnway was owned by the state," city Engineering Director Tim Burkman said. "Now they are the city's, and we sought the additional funding to upgrade what is now out infrastructure."
Burkman said the Indiana Department of Transportation had upgraded the signals, but the technology wasn't always reliable. The wireless interconnect wasn't effective because the antenna signals were blocked by buildings. Now the antennas are mounted on mast arms.
"Now they are all connected to the main system, and they are communicating," he said. "It optimizes the efficiency of travel through the downtown. That does not mean you are going to get a green light every time. It has to balance the north/south traffic, but the priority is given to Lincolnway."
He said the city will continue to monitor the system to see if adjustments are needed to improve traffic flow further. The LED bulbs not only reduce the energy consumption, they also make the battery backups possible. If there is a power outage, the signals will continue to operate normally for a set time, probably about two hours, before switching to flashing red to further reduce energy consumption until the outage is fixed.
The state had upgraded most of the signals to LED fixtures, but the amber bulbs were still the old incandescent variety because they operate only for a short time and didn't justify the cost of changing them. For the battery system to work, the city upgraded 20 amber bulbs to LED.
The new system also will allow the batteries to operate the crossing signals, some of which had to be changed to LED as well. The master controller is at Franklin Street and Lincolnway, the high point of the downtown, so it can get wireless signals from all the other lights.
"It's a great improvement for the downtown from a traffic standpoint and aesthetically," Burkman said. "While they were doing some of the improvements, they were able to dress up a couple of the intersections as well."
And it was all done in time to help Santa get through the downtown quickly and easily.