Lee County working to fix traffic lights and congestion
LEE COUNTY, Fla. – Inside Lee County’s Traffic Operations Center, it looks like some sort of movie theater. The view from dozens of traffic cameras from across the area is projected onto a large wall.
From within the center, workers can watch the roads in real time, monitor traffic backups and even change the timing of the lights.
“We can make live changes to the intersections,” Mike Padgett, the traffic operations manager, explained to NBC2. “Help traffic flow better. That’s our main goal.”
But achieving that goal has been made harder by Hurricane Ian – especially in the days right after the storm swept through the region.
“When we first came back – everything was down,” Padgett said.
Right away, the county knew the damage was bad. Traffic lights, signs and cameras were all lost in the storm.
Outside the traffic operations center, crews have been on the roads working to fix the problems ever since Ian hit. The county government is the maintenance agency for all traffic signals in Lee.
“Of the 447 traffic signals in Lee County, we had damage at 400 of them,” Rob Price, the deputy director of the Lee County DOT, told NBC2.
That’s not 400 lights – but 400 intersections with lights that were damaged by Ian. Not to mention more than 13,000 signs that were damaged as well.
“Just got blown away in the hurricane,” Price explained. “It was extensive. We certainly have more damage now than we did for Irma.”
The first focus was on temporary repairs, working to ensure one signal head in each direction is functional. The county managed those fixes 14 days after the hurricane.
But getting intersections operable again doesn’t mean optimum. Many of the cameras that detect when the light should change were also taken out by the strong winds.
“Signals aren’t working to their maximum efficiency,” Price said. “We certainly have seen the congestion and the drivers are certainly feeling the pain. We all are.”
And the total cost to do permanent repairs isn’t cheap.
“Right now, we’re estimating in the 17-20 million dollar range,” Price explained.
For signals with less than $5,000 in damage, the federal government won’t reimburse the county, so crews have already been doing permanent repairs on those.
For most of it, though – 80 percent of permanent repairs – the federal government will pay. But getting that money can be a lengthy process, Price explained.
“Which is why we just can’t go out there and repair all these signals today. We have to seek federal reimbursement to get those signals repaired,” Price said. “We’re trying to be responsible with the use of taxpayer monies.”
The county hopes to have the work it’s paying for finished by June.
As for full repairs to the system? The timeline is perhaps fitting.
“I think we’ll be good by the end of summer. And by hurricane season next year. We’ll have everything safened up. And prepared for the next hurricane season,” Price said.