The City of Prineville is working with ODOT to adjust traffic signals and shorten the wait time for east-west travel

by: JASON CHANEY - Traffic signals on Third Street from Elm Street to Harwood Street are undergoing changes to speed up the flow of traffic down the road.

For the past decade, the City of Prineville street and planning departments have been hearing complaints about traffic backups on Third Street.

Street Supervisor Scott Smith noted that, because of the timing of the traffic signals from Harwood Street to Elm Street, traffic has become backed up from signal to signal during peak driving hours, and special community events like the Crooked River Roundup.

To fix the problem, he and City Engineer Eric Klann have spent the past five years pressuring the Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT) to make improvements to the traffic signals.

“That hadn’t gone very far in our favor until just recently,” Smith said of the effort. He explained that ODOT wanted to complete the improvements only as part of a larger streetscape project that would enable them to install new fiber optic infrastructure to the connect the signals. Such an effort would cost the city $1.5 million.

“That’s just not realistic for us and we didn’t see that in the near future,” Smith continued.

Now, thanks to some personnel changes at ODOT, the agency has a new signal coordinator who found a way to improve the traffic signals for significantly less money.

“We sat down about six months ago and discussed what we felt were concerns primarily when we have a lot of community events going on like the rodeo, the horse races – those types of situation where we see traffic backed up from signal to signal consistently,” Smith explained.

Through the course of those conversations and research of the signals by the new coordinator, it was discovered that they were already connected.

“It’s an old copper wire so there is only so much you can do with it,” Smith stated, “so what we did was ODOT wrote some programs, have come out and observed traffic patterns, timing of traffic, and they have made some coordination efforts on those signals.”

The intent is to help the traffic flow more smoothly through that portion of Third Street and reduce the wait time of east-west traffic so that vehicles are not backed up from one signal to the next.

So far, ODOT has accomplished that goal, but in doing so, it has created another situation that is prompting new driver complaints. The city is now experiencing uncommon backups on the north-south streets associated with the signals. The streets include Harwood, Deer, Main and Elm.

In response, city staff and ODOT are working together to strike a balance that keeps traffic flowing more efficiently down Third Street while keeping the wait time at intersecting roads more reasonable. Smith cautioned that such a balance could still result in longer wait times for north-south traffic than drivers experienced before the signal improvements began.

“We still don’t feel like we have found an ideal coordination program,” he said, “but what we will experience well into the future is a more standard wait time on the secondary streets,” he said.

As the process continues, through a series of experiments and upgrades, Smith is asking drivers to remain patient and continue providing feedback that can be passed on to ODOT. In the end, they hope to resolve the congestion concerns as drivers pass through town while minimizing the impact to north-south traffic.

“I think we will see much better movement on Third Street,” Smith concluded.

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