Commissioner Christine Robinson says the document does not provide a thorough enough explanation of the system
A comprehensive staff report the Sarasota County commissioners requested in November about the status of the Advanced Traffic Management System (ATMS) still does not provide all the answers Commissioner Christine Robinson was seeking. She hopes to get that extra clarity when the board holds a discussion of the report — at her request — during a February meeting, she told The Sarasota News Leader.
Leigh Sprimont, commission services manager for the county, said in a phone interview with the News Leader this week that she expects the discussion to be scheduled in February, because agendas are full for this month. She added that it was too early, however, to predict the February date for which it would be set.
During a Nov. 17, 2015 discussion of county priorities for the Sarasota/Manatee Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO), commissioners voiced surprise and then anger after staff members told them that traffic signal timing was not being adjusted as ATMS phases were being installed. Paula Wiggins, the county’s transportation planning manager, said that funding for the signal retiming effort is included in the county’s current fiscal year budget, but staff had to complete an agreement with the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) for that agency to undertake the work.
Following the discussion, the commissioners voted unanimously to call for the in-depth staff analysis of the ATMS.
After poring over the report, which was delivered to the board on Dec. 15, Robinson told the News Leader she still had questions. Moreover, “there needs to be a public explanation of the program and expectations [of it] … in alleviating traffic congestion,” she said.
The staff report, which was provided by Public Works Director Isaac Brownman; Larry R. Mau, Transportation Division manager; and Interim County Engineer Carolyn Eastwood, says the “Sarasota-Manatee Advanced Traffic Management System (ATMS) concept and implementation plan was initiated by [FDOT] with the local stakeholders of Sarasota County, Manatee County and the cities of Sarasota and Bradenton in 2001 with a goal of mitigating increasing traffic congestion in the bi-county area.”
It continues, “The concept was to design and construct traffic control and management technologies that allow staff to:
“• monitor traffic flow in real time,
“• respond to localized traffic incidents/congestion with immediate signal timing adjustments,
“ • notify stakeholders of the traffic issues and resolutions,
“• implement new technologies designed to improve overall flow of traffic on specific corridors as funding becomes available …”
The report says, “Each phase of the program has added new signal locations to the ATMS network for monitoring and control,” along with new technologies as they become available.
The first three phases — from 2009 through 2014 — involved 163 signals and cost $14.9 million, the report adds. Phase 4, with 50 signals, began in 2012 and is still under way. Its cost is $8,388,000.
The report also explains that the ATMS provides “operators with the ability to respond and adjust signal timing for specific movements at specific intersections. This is a growing and maturing system with state-of-the-art technologies that must be tested as they are introduced.”
It points out that Sarasota County staff has programmed most of the county’s intersections along arterial and collector roads with timing patterns based on the needs for each specific location. “These intersections are either linked to each other with telecommunication lines or coordinated by clocks,” the report adds; then the intersections are sequenced with each other based on the traffic flow patterns on the corridor.
The report does say that signal re-timing was part of Phases 1 through 4. However, it notes, FDOT retimed certain ATMS corridors “to improve coordination and traffic flow …”
Among those corridors are Bee Ridge Road from Interstate 75 to Shade Avenue; U.S. 301 from Desoto Road to Oak Street; Clark Road from I-75 to Sarasota Pavilion; and Fruitville Road from I-75 to East Avenue.
“FDOT has also programmed a new county-wide signal timing project for [the 2016-17 fiscal year] in the amount of $1,400,000 through the MPO,” the report says, “with the actual study and implementation time window estimated as January 2017 to March 2018.” That project will include the City of Sarasota, the report notes.
Additionally, the report explains that the signal timing is designed to maximize the flow in the dominant direction of traffic at a given time, based on historical data. It adds, “These signalization programs are not intelligent and do not self-adjust to improve flow of traffic if the actual traffic volumes are different from the anticipated volumes on one or more legs of an intersection.”
Further, it says, when emergency vehicles preempt signals, those intersections that are impacted “become out of sync and [take] a few cycles to adjust back [to the regular pattern].”
Finally, the report notes that staff is “working with two new programs designed to go a step beyond simple time-of-day programming.” The first would allow staff to review signal operations and make changes in real time, the report says. The second “is designed to read traffic patterns in the full corridor in real-time and make ‘intelligent’ signal timing adjustments to respond to the traffic demand without the aid of staff.”
Equipment for the latter program has been installed and will be functional along the University Parkway corridor in March of this year, the report adds.
In the interview with the News Leader, Robinson said, “My understanding of the program from our previous county engineer was that they were doing incremental timing as soon as a phase was completed: They’d do a phase, and the timing would be done; they’d do a phase, and the timing would be done.”
Robinson added, “I question whether we should have invested in equipment over such a long period of time when technology changes so quickly.”