Arizona's New Remote-Controlled Traffic Lights Debut at NASCAR Event

For the first time, the Arizona Department of Transportation (ADOT) is using portable, battery-operated and remote-controlled traffic signals to help manage the approximately 200,000 spectators expected over the weekend for NASCAR races.

Scottsdale-based Traffic Technology Inc. will debut its Unilight Trailblazer signal at the Phoenix International Raceway's NASCAR weekend events Nov. 6-7.

"Traffic has been an absolute nightmare at PIR for years," said Helen Carroll, public information officer at the Maricopa County DOT. "PIR is located in a very rural, agricultural area, and there's only a few roads that get out there.... One year it took people about 10 hours to get out."

The goal this year is to get everyone out in an hour.

The Trailblazer is controlled by an operator who obtains traffic information from observers in helicopters and from traffic-monitoring cameras. The system uses technology similar to a television remote control to change the signals, said William Gartner, TTI's founder and president.

"The safety issue is addressed for officers because they don't have stand directly in the line of traffic," Gartner said, explaining that the signals can be changed from up to 100 feet away. "Also, the fact that it's so much easier to see than a flag guy or a guy with a little stop sign...for event traffic management, it really speeds things up, and people respond to it."

"Officials at ADOT have been looking for a signal like this...and were involved in the design of these signals as they were moving along," said ADOT spokesman Doug Nintzel.

ADOT purchased 24 units at $2,950 each, much less than traditional timed systems that cost about $9,000 each. An additional money saver is lighting in the signals, which are more efficient and last about five times longer than the usual incandescent bulbs.

The TTI signals have not been used in intersections yet, but Scottsdale plans to field test that concept. Gartner said hundreds of cities and 47 foreign countries already have inquired about the new system.

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