CLEARWATER - Many citizens were not surprised that the recently opened Memorial Causeway Bridge failed to improve traffic delays leaving the beach. They were surprised, however, that eastbound traffic seemed worse at times, with backups extending the length of the Causeway even before the start of Spring Break.
Citizens were not alone in their traffic concern; Clearwater Police Lt. Wayne Andrews, Commander of the beach District, also noticed the issue.
Andrews, working with Clearwater's Traffic Engineering manager Paul Bertels, found that traffic signal timing at the intersections of Oak Street and Fort Harrison Avenue with Chestnut Street were causing the problem. He found that the timing gave priority to Fort Harrison (Alt US 19) even on weekends when the volume north/south traffic did not require it, and that the two signals were not synchronized.
Not one to leave a problem unsolved, Andrews took action. His solution? Manually operate the Chestnut-Ft. Harrison and Chestnut-Oak traffic signals, giving priority to eastbound traffic when necessary and synchronizing their operation. The first test of Andrews' idea occurred on the afternoon of Thursday March 1st, when he trained Clearwater's AmeriCorps community service employees on traffic signal operation at those intersections. The solution appeared to work.
The acid test came on Saturday March 4th. Andrews had two AmeriCorps staff manually operate the signals between the hours of 3 and 6 pm, giving 75 seconds of green to eastbound traffic, and 45 seconds to north/south traffic. The result was a dramatic reduction in backups, with most cars requiring only one light change to make it through the two intersections.
The operation was not conducted on Sunday, and eastbound afternoon traffic returned to its congested state, backing-up beyond Island Way at 5 pm.
Based on the improved traffic flow, Andrews plans to have AmeriCorps employees operate the signals every Friday, Saturday and Sunday from 3-6 pm through the end of Spring Break, plus Easter weekend. He'll also monitor the situation on weekdays and take over signal operation as traffic requires and manpower permits.
Andrews said, "Traffic Engineering and CPD are working on a permanent solution to ease the eastbound traffic at the Courthouse." The City and Pinellas County recently inked a partnership to implement an Intelligent Transportation System (ITS) that promises to ease traffic congestion throughout the County sometime in the future. Until then, Clearwater's version of ITS will continue to wear a dark blue uniform.
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