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New flashing yellow arrows for left turns could reduce crashes

SALISBURY — New flashing yellow arrows that allow more left turns at busy Salisbury intersections could also help reduce crashes, a city official said.
Flashing yellow arrows like those on many of the city’s upgraded traffic signals reduced accidents by 37 percent in studies conducted elsewhere in 2009 and 2010, City Engineer Wendy Brindle told City Council on Tuesday. The flashing yellow arrow means left turns can proceed with caution, but there may be oncoming traffic.
Crews from the city and N.C. Department of Transportation have been working on the city’s $3.6 million signal upgrade since February 2012, including new wiring, cabinets, technology and signals for traffic lights in Salisbury. Because the improvements should improve traffic flow and cut down on idling time at stoplights, the federal Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality Improvement Program, or CMAQ, is paying 80 percent of the cost. The city and N.C. DOT are splitting the remaining 20 percent.
Since the state owns 74 of the traffic signals in Salisbury and the city owns 11, the state is paying the lion’s share. Salisbury’s portion is $110,000.
“We are getting a lot of bang for our buck,” Brindle said.
The state has upgraded 47 signals and the city has upgraded eight.
The project includes cameras at four busy intersections. The cameras will not record, so they will not be used to catch speeders or motorists who run red lights, Brindle said.
Instead, the cameras will provide a live feed to city staff at 132 N. Main St. to monitor traffic conditions. If intersections become unusually congested, engineers will be able to remotely change signal timing from their office, Brindle said.
Cameras will be located on top of the Plaza at the Square and at the intersection of Jake Alexander Boulevard and three roads: Interstate 85, Brenner Avenue and Main Street.
The project also will replace all existing pedestrian crossing signals with countdown signals but not add any new pedestrian lights.
The flashing yellow left-turn arrows have caused some confusion, Brindle said, especially at intersections that already had a solid green left-turn arrow, like the corner of West Innes and Fulton streets. N.C. DOT set the upgraded signal to flash a yellow left-turn arrow first, then transition to a solid green arrow.
For motorists who were accustomed to having a green arrow, this was confusing, Brindle said.
The city has adjusted the left-turn signals to show a solid green arrow first, then change to a flashing yellow arrow, she said.
The new system will let city engineers change the timing of signals, including the flashing yellow arrows, throughout the day based on traffic conditions.
“This will allow us to have some flexibility in our coordination and hopefully move traffic a little better through these intersections,” Brindle said.
Mayor Paul Woodson said he already has seen the flashing yellow arrows cut his wait time at intersections.
“I used to sit there forever,” he said. “Instead of sitting there for a minute or two, now you set there for 15 or 20 seconds.”
Councilman Brian Miller recommended two intersections where he thought the new arrows could cause a problem — Jake Alexander Boulevard and Mooresville Road, as well as Mahaley Avenue and Mocksville Avenue. Councilman Pete Kennedy said the turn signal explains why some intersection that used to have two traffic lights now have three.
Contact reporter Emily Ford at 704-797-4264.

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