Dallas Faces Giant Backlog of Outdated Traffic Signals

Current city spending does not solve the backlog

A giant backlog of outdated Dallas traffic signals will not be solved with current funding.

That's the message the Dallas City Council Transportation Committee received at a briefing this week.

Of the 1,380 Dallas intersections with signals, more than half, or 748, have equipment that was installed before 1980. Scores more are past their 25-year expected life span.

"It sounds like an important thing to me," said driver Lisa Blecher. "Dallas traffic is pretty terrible."

The signal backlog is the result of years of overlooking routine maintenance and replacement.

"We should be maintaining them along the way and keeping them current rather waiting for them to fail and replacing them," committee chairman Lee Kleinman said.

He spoke to NBC 5 Thursday at the corner of Forest Lane and Park Central Drive in front of Medical City Dallas.

"Right now, if this intersection timing needs to be changed, somebody physically has to come out here and make changes," he said.

Modern signals there would respond to emergency vehicles as signals do in some other cities. They could connect wirelessly to the central Dallas traffic control center to synchronize with other signals on Forest Lane.

"It would be coordinated with the next signal that's down there at Central Expressway, so you don't get this back up, where people are waiting two or three signals to get through an intersection," Kleinman said.

In parts of Deep Ellum, signal equipment was installed before the 1970s. At the corner of Canton Street and Malcolm X Boulevard, a signal arm more than 50 years old was shaking Thursday, with very little wind.

"Looking at the skyline over there and then what this is like, they're definitely two different worlds," said Kassie Hansen, a Deep Ellum visitor from Kentucky.

Switching to a routine replacement program to remove the backlog would cost the city $22 million a year for the next 15 years. That adds up to $325 million the city of Dallas does not have.

"I don't know how we're going to do this," councilman David Blewett said. "This unsolvable riddle."

The news worried new members of the Dallas City Council who received the staggering information for the first time at the briefing this week.

"We've got to really take this seriously. It's a public safety issue at its core. And it's an efficiency issue," councilman Chad West said.

Dallas driver Michael Burley said roads he used in California had synchronized signals.

"You're not going to be sitting there just wasting your gas," he said.

A $10 million investment two years ago upgraded the central traffic computer system at Dallas City Hall, but fewer than half the signals can communicate with it.

Driver Mindy Collins said computer connection would be nice.

"Do we have that kind of money? We can't spend money we don’t have," she said.

This year the city has about half the recommended $22 million to use on signal upgrades.

“You have to prioritize intersections and just start on the ones that need it the most, which may not be the oldest ones," Kleinman said. "Whenever we put the signals in, we put the modern ones in."

Officials said another 93 Dallas intersections without signals need to have them added. Money is earmarked for only 40.

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