Coming soon: Better traffic signal timing on Hiawatha Avenue

Anyone who drives on or across Hiawatha Avenue knows the light-rail line running alongside it often disrupts the traffic signals. This triggers long delays for many who get caught behind red lights. Engineers are now in the process of installing new traffic signal control systems that will prevent these extended waits. The work is part of a multi-agency effort being led by the City of Minneapolis, and  should make driving on Hiawatha Avenue better than it’s been since light rail first came to town.

The situation on Hiawatha is unique in the country: nowhere else will you find a high-speed rail line parallel to a busy highway causing frequent disruptions to traffic running through city neighborhoods. Unlike in downtown Minneapolis, the light-rail trains do not stop at intersections along Hiawatha. Instead, the vehicle traffic must stop for the high-speed trains. Currently, the traffic signal cycle starts over every time a train passes, meaning that someone almost ready to get the light to cross an intersection would have to wait through the whole cycle again. 

The solution to this problem comes in the form of technology that wasn’t around when light-rail began service in 2004. New traffic signal management systems take into consideration wait times whenever light-rail trains come through and disrupt traffic signal timing. That way, vehicles that have waited the longest behind will be the first to get green lights. This should improve traffic flow without compromising public safety. The equipment, customized for Hiawatha corridor, will also be able to skip a phase if there are no vehicles waiting, making driving much easier for residents of adjacent neighborhoods who now have to wait at red lights even when there is no traffic on the highway.

New traffic sensors will need to be placed within the pavement on Hiawatha and side streets to replace old technology.  The new sensor technology is better and more durable than older versions and should last for decades.

Work to install traffic sensors for cross streets begins tomorrow, Oct. 10, and some lane restrictions will be required. Full street closures will be needed to replace the sensors on Hiawatha itself; northbound lanes will be closed the weekend of Oct. 13-14, and southbound lanes will be closed the weekend of Oct. 20-21.

Drivers will not see the full benefits of these systems until all work is completed in December.

Visit the City's website for more information on the Hiawatha Traffic Signal Timing Project.

Published Oct 9, 2012