Stoplights to get battery backup

Decision to retrofit lights comes after fatal January crash


Howard County will retrofit two dozen traffic signals with battery backups capable of keeping them working for up to eight hours after a power loss, County Executive James N. Robey announced yesterday, a $120,000 project that follows the January crash at a darkened intersection that killed two teenagers.

In a statement, Robey said the technology would save "lives and manpower during emergencies." Battery backup systems are in use elsewhere, including at dozens of intersections in Anne Arundel County and at hundreds of lights in New York City.

However, the scene of the fatal January crash -- westbound Route 175 and southbound Interstate 95 -- is not among the two dozen Howard county intersections getting batteries because it is maintained by the State Highway Administration.

The highway administration recently asked local police departments and governments to prioritize the intersections they want the state to upgrade from now through fiscal year 2010, and the site of the fatal crash likely will be among the 350 to 400 signals improved during that time, said Dave Buck, a spokesman for the highway administration. But the agency has not obtained funding for the improvements or finalized a schedule, which are key hurdles for the project.

Older traffic signals, which do not support batteries, eat up more power and don't last as long as light-emitting diodes, or LEDs. Howard County has finished upgrading its lights with this technology; the state has not.

"We're trying to see what we can do to at least accelerate the upgrades at intersections where one road is maintained by the state and the other is maintained by the county because we pay the energy costs at those intersections," said Jim Irvin, Howard County's public works director.

Interest in the technology increased after the January accident, in which a tractor-trailer drove through an intersection where a signal had lost power and struck a Volvo carrying Scott E. Caplan, 19, of Columbia and Theresa E. Howard, 18, of Eldersburg. The driver of the tractor-trailer, Gary L. Dicks, 24, of Stephen City, Va., received two traffic citations in the incident.

Following the revelation that police officers had been dispatched to the light but either never found the location or improperly left the intersection, former Howard County Police Chief Wayne Livesay announced that officers would be required to stay at signals that are not working until they are fixed or until a stop sign or another temporary device is working at the scene.

As part of the county program, batteries will be installed automatically at all new county-maintained signals. And when used in conjunction with the Howard County's 20 portable generators, many of the county's 84 traffic signals could run off the batteries indefinitely.

"This allows us to develop a rotation schedule for the generators that would keep the county's traffic control system functioning on a combination of battery and generator power in the event of an extended power outage," Irvin said.

The installations are scheduled to begin during the current fiscal year, which started this month, and end during the next fiscal year.

Scheduled retrofits

Here are the 24 intersections slated for the retrofits. They were selected based on traffic volume and emergency ambulance routes.

Little Patuxent Parkway / Columbia Road

Little Patuxent Parkway / Vantage Point Road / West Running Brook

Little Patuxent Parkway / Gov. Warfield Parkway

Little Patuxent Parkway / Sterrett Place

Little Patuxent Parkway / General Growth Properties / Mall entrance

Little Patuxent Parkway / South Entrance Road

Little Patuxent Parkway / Symphony Woods / Mall entrance

Little Patuxent Parkway / Broken Land Parkway

Little Patuxent Parkway / Gov. Warfield Parkway / Banneker Road

Little Patuxent Parkway / Harpers Farm Road / Howard Community College

Little Patuxent Parkway / Cedar Lane

Broken Land Parkway / Hickory Ridge Road

Broken Land Parkway / Stevens Forest Road

Broken Land Parkway / Cradlerock Way North

Broken Land Parkway / Cradlerock Way South

Broken Land Parkway / Snowden River Parkway

Snowden River Parkway / Minstrel Way

Snowden River Parkway / Berger Road / Carved Stone

Snowden River Parkway / Oakland Mills Road

Snowden River Parkway / Snowden Square Drive

Snowden River Parkway / McGaw Road

Snowden River Parkway / Dobbin Road / Dried Earth Boulevard

Snowden River Parkway / Tamar Drive

Snowden River Parkway / Nursing home / Bennigans entrance

Source: Howard County Government

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