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City of Viroqua officials still making adjustments to downtown traffic signals

VIROQUA, Wis. – City of Viroqua officials gave the Viroqua Public Works Committee an update on the progress of the downtown traffic changes at the committee’s August 29 meeting. City Engineer Sarah Grainger told the committee that although the actual construction part of the project is done, they are still tinkering with the signals that control traffic flow and the message to the public is that the project is not done yet.

City Engineer Sarah Grainger’s update on downtown Viroqua traffic improvements starts at the 16:30 mark

The city of Viroqua revamped its downtown traffic patterns this summer in an attempt to increase pedestrian safety and smooth out traffic flow from north to south. The changes have been in the works for a couple of years and will happen in two phases. The first phase took place this summer on the four lane section of Main Street outside of the downtown area. The second phase will happen next year on the four block section of Main Street between Decker and South Streets.

You can read a more detailed explanations of those two projects in our previous story we posted back in June.

The project that took place this year involved switching those two sections of highway in the north/south corridor (outside of the downtown) from four lanes to three lanes. The center lane acts as a turn lane that is intended to reduce the number of rear end collisions and make it easier for pedestrians to cross more safely. Feedback on the project has been mixed with some city residents unhappy with the changes and others expressing gratitude for finally addressing pedestrian issues that have been discussed for years.

City of Viroqua Engineer Sarah Grainger

One of the areas that seems to have become more of a bottleneck with the changes is the traffic light at Main and Decker Streets. The new layout reduced the lanes to one at the east and west part of that intersection and changed the signal pattern for east/west traffic to allow each side to have their own signal. That dedicated signal, allowing one side to go at a time, was intended to reduce the confusion when entering the intersection allowing motorists to immediately turn left without fighting any oncoming traffic. That seems to have helped with the east west flow but the dedicated signals have increase signal wait times for the traffic going north and south. The result has been some traffic backups downtown at peak traffic times.

Viroqua City Engineer and Public Works Director Sarah Granger told the Public Works Committee they are still tinkering with the signal patterns and it may take some time to work out traffic patterns to reduce those backups. Grainger said the Wisconsin Department of Transportation operates the system that includes sensors in the road to let the system know when cars are in an intersection. Grainger went on to say the DOT has given her access to the system and allowed her to make adjustments, speeding up the ability to make changes to the system.

Problems with traffic sensors

“One of the problems happening right now is there is sensing that is not happening,” said Grainger. “Historically, we have wires or loops under the concrete that can tell when vehicles are there. What I didnt understand before is they don’t have them (sensors) at all the stop locations at the intersection, they have them on Decker and then the left turn lanes if you are going south.”

Grainger said some of the loops that are there are no longer sensing vehicles because the stop bars at the intersections were moved back to allow more room for large trucks to make wide turns. Grainger said sometimes the loops are not reading the presence of smaller traffic like motorcycles. Grainger said they have also discovered that sensing loops that are farther back from the intersection intended to sense the volume of traffic are not always reading accurately because traffic is hesitation or not moving and the loops are not picking up the presence of vehicles. That throws the timing of the lights off.

Grainger told the committee the good news is that now that they know the sensors are not reading properly the DOT has agreed to include new sensors in the project that work from overhead and will hopefully read more accurately.

“So we are hoping that goes a long way in helping things kind of not happen in odd ways because of weird cuing and traffic flows”, Grainger said.

Once the sensors are upgraded, Grainger said it will be a matter of adjusting the programming of the system that will be getting better information from the sensors.

Grainger said the DOT has already made some adjustments to the system. As an example, normally on Decker Street the west side would get the first turn through the intersection, but the DOT has changed the program during school hours so the east side can go first to allow the heavier traffic from the school to disperse more quickly.

Grainger said the change in the Decker and Main signal has also impacted the timing with the light at Jefferson so they are making adjustments there as well. She said they are continuing to make adjustments and will come back to the committee at a later meeting to update on the new sensors and further adjustments.

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  • I had problems with the sensors not working to turn the light green when on my bike; so, it’s good to hear they will have above ground sensorsl

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