New Push to Upgrade Old Dallas Traffic Signals

Years of talk and money is still short for a total upgrade of old signals.

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Dallas has a new plan to upgrade old, failing traffic signals to boost safety and improve traffic flow.  But there’s not enough money to pay for a total upgrade. It may be up to Dallas voters in a future public improvement bond referendum.

That was the summary of the latest traffic signal briefing for City Council Members Wednesday.  It is an issue they have discussed several times in recent years but have not solved.

Dallas has 1,426 traffic signals, most of them installed before 1990.  Dallas Transportation Director Gus Kankarli Wednesday told Dallas City Council members that signals older than 1990 are past their normal useful life.

One old signal on Marsalis at Winters was shaking in the wind Wednesday.

Dallas Driver Carlos Olivas said he has noticed the old signals.

“I think it’s time we spent money of the basic services, like sidewalks, traffic lights, roads. The potholes are terrible,” Olivas said. “Let's get the basics addressed and done.”

Former Dallas Mayor Mike Rawling said something similar at a 2017 City Council briefing on outdated traffic signals.

“What do we have to spend more of, and when are we going to see a difference,” Rawlings said.

Dallas has been spending millions of dollars a year on signals and there has been progress since then.

Today’s report of 61.29% of signals installed before 1990 is better than the 68.33% reported of that age in 2019.

But the briefing for City Council Members still showed collapsed signal poles, signal boxes with rodent damage and vandalized signal equipment that has caused signal failures.

Dallas Driver Marlon Byrd said older signals he’s noticed problems with old signals.

“It's not safe at all because a bunch of accidents happen at these lights,” he said.

Commerce Street in Downtown Dallas is an example of how traffic signals should operate.

The signals on Commerce are synchronized for smooth travel, which improves fuel economy and air quality.

A test drive at normal speed went from the AT&T Discovery District to Good Latimer in less than two minutes with no stops. 

Newer signals communicate with traffic management computers at a city hall control center. They can be adjusted for various conditions.

They will also be able to communicate with GPS traffic tracking and new features to be available in future motor vehicles.

Instead of being behind the times, Dallas Transportation Director Khankarli said planned upgrades will be cutting-edge technology.

"We are headed in the right direction. And I think this is transformative in my opinion and it will put us in elite company if we move forward with what we are planning on doing,” he said.

An extended vendor contract for some of the plans will be voted on by the Dallas City Council in the near future, but money is still short for upgrading all the signals.

The City of Dallas has found grants to help move some improvements along.

“I truly appreciate that. I just think we have to make a bigger commitment to our infrastructure,” Council Member Cara Mendelsohn said.

Councilman Casey Thomas said much bigger spending for upgrades should be included in a future Dallas public improvement bond referendum for voters to decide.

That will push major upgrades years longer into the future.

“Stuff we use every day, you shouldn't have to vote on it. We shouldn't have to vote on it, especially if it's causing accidents and someone maybe die,” driver Marlon Byrd said.

Carlos Olivas said City Hall should find money from current tax revenue.

“I think basically just looking at the existing budget and making sure we’re spending in the most efficient and effective way,” he said.

City officials are working on a policy for the exchange of data that will come from the traffic management system.

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