NORTH ARLINGTON — Within a two-mile radius of where Schuyler Avenue and Belleville Turnpike intersect in North Arlington, drivers confront day-to-day traffic backups at stop lights and construction projects on roads built before World War II.
With bends and single-lane stretches, they are among the region’s busiest roadways, passing industrial zones, strip malls and apartments, leaving little room for widening or straightening to ease congestion.
To improve flow, Meadowlands region officials are turning to a new sort of traffic signal that can sense traffic jams, communicate with other “smart” traffic lights and automatically clear up congestion.
The project — called Meadowlands Adaptive Signal System for Traffic Reduction — an innovative network that includes cameras, computerized radios and sensors that will adjust the timing of traffic signals — began construction last year in Secaucus.
Once the system is up and running, it should cut travel time on historically congested roads and save on fuel consumption.
“What this system does is optimize the signal timing at every signal all day long, every day,” David Liebgold, the Meadowland Commission’s chief of transportation, told The Record of Woodland Park. “So if there are any changes in traffic flow, such as an increase in one direction but not the other, the signal can automatically adjust its timing and provide more green time where the demand is.”
Passaic County planning officials said no plans for upgrading to smart signals are yet on the horizon for county roads. Major highways are under state jurisdiction, but officials with the state Department of Transportation could not be reached for comment.
Construction is in four stages, including a command control center staffed by transportation engineers. The project is expected to be completed by December 2013, Liebgold said.
Last month, Phase II, which includes North Arlington, Kearny and Lyndhurst, began at the Schuyler Avenue-Belleville Turnpike intersection, where traffic often bottlenecks in all directions.
As workers installed cameras on traffic lights, signal software in traffic cabinets and wireless communications devices on poles, Liebgold said signal lights will “literally talk to each other” helping to eliminate unnecessary long waits at lights that snarl traffic flow.
Two miles north, in Lyndhurst, where traffic grinds to a halt at Orient Way and Page Avenue before being funneled onto Schuyler Avenue, the thought of improved traffic is welcome news.
“It should help some,” said Lyndhurst Mayor Richard Giangeruso. “There’s no traffic light and traffic builds up.”
Several years ago, Lyndhurst officials voiced objections to Meadow Crossing, a massive residential complex now under construction on the corner, because of traffic concerns. Plans were downsized from a 374-unit proposal to a 296-unit project.
Part of a $10 million federal grant awarded in 2010, the 128 traffic signals in the 14-town region will make commutes more bearable along Routes 1 and 9, 7, 17, 120 and other roadways, local officials say.
“It’s got economic and environmental benefits,” said Brian Aberback, a spokesman for the regional agency. “When cars flow more freely and trucks are moving, it makes commerce more efficient.”
Aside from relieving congestion, transportation experts say that fine-tuning traffic controls reduces air pollution, cuts accidents at intersections and saves five tanks of gas annually per household, according to the National Transportation Operations Coalition, an alliance of federal, state and local traffic departments.
Similar regionalized traffic management systems are already running in Seattle, Milwaukee, Denver, Miami-Dade County and the Washington, D.C., metropolitan area with positive results, traffic expert say.
In Delaware, where more than 700 “smart” traffic lights have been installed to ease traffic in and around Wilmington and reduce summer drives to the beach, police use its cameras to monitor accident scenes and help reroute traffic, officials said.
In the Meadowlands, where a state-of-the-art control center will be set up at the agency’s headquarters in Lyndhurst, the state Department of Transportation will give it authority to regulate traffic signals in the region.
This month, the Meadowlands Commission will award bids for Phase III of the project, which will include Rutherford, East Rutherford, Moonachie, Teterboro and a section of Route 17, Liebgold said.
A segment to come later, Phase IV, includes North Bergen and Ridgefield, along with sections of Routes 1 and 9.
In Secaucus, where adaptive traffic signals have been installed throughout town, officials look forward to alleviating the snares that stall traffic on Paterson Plank Road to and from Route 3.
With the lighting system’s target date just a month before the region hosts the Super Bowl in February 2014, locals say they’re ready.
“Hopefully, the smart technology can help,” David Drummeler, the town administrator, said about traffic. “The mayor and council look forward to flipping the switch.”
An Associated Press Member Exchange report.