As Xcel Energy shuts down portions of Hiawatha Avenue this week, crews from the Minneapolis Public Works Department are also moving in to install a new traffic signal system along the light rail tracks.
A lot of us have been there: Going north or south on Hiawatha is not much of a challenge, but going east or west from Hiawatha — or trying to cross the street — can take two or three signal sequences and try the patience of the most polite of drivers.
“There is so much time wasted — people sitting in their cars or commercial vehicles because they are trapped behind signal lights,” said Council Member Sandy Colvin Roy, who chairs the Transportation and Public Works Committee.
Starting Wednesday, city crews will begin installing the new system at seven intersections along Hiawatha starting with 26th Street on the north and ending with 50th Street on the south.
“I’m very confident that by the end of this year you’ll see better operations on Hiawatha Avenue,” said senior engineer Allen Klugman of Minneapolis Traffic and Parking Services.
Crews will begin by installing 160 sensors that can detect the presence of a vehicle – more than doubling the number of vehicle sensors currently in use and replacing older units.
The sensors, which will be buried in the pavement, will be able to tell the signal system how long a vehicle has been waiting so those who have waited the longest will get the first green light.
Currently, the signal lights provide safe passage for the trains while pedestrians and those in vehicles sit and wait.
“When the arms go up, the signal goes right back to the beginning of a pre-set mode,” said Colvin Roy, “so whoever was sitting there waiting and just about to go through can’t, they have to sit and wait through the entire cycle again.”
The new system will also have back-up batteries that are lacking in the current system, so when the power goes out, the signal system can still operate.
Cost of the new system is estimated at $1.1 million. Work on the system will continue through November.