Traffic Engineering gears up for $3.5 million downtown SPLOST project

After 30 years, it’s time for some upgrades downtown, said Augusta’s Traffic Engineer Steve Cassell. The manufacturer of the existing signals, Transyt, no longer makes or supports them, nor does it carry spare parts.

 “There are ways around that, but I don’t think you want to run a traffic engineering department on eBay,” Cassell said.
A SPLOST-funded project, the signalization and street light upgrade was approved by voters in 2000, according to Signal Engineer Mike Edwards, a 29-year-veteran of the department. But the $3.5 million and the work sat on the back burner for the last seven years. Over time, the priorities of the city government have changed, and individuals within government would like to redirect some of the SPLOST money set aside for the project.
Cassell thinks that would be unwise for safety and functionality.
“It’s nothing that’s going to happen tomorrow, but over time, in the next five or so years, we’re getting more nervous as time goes along,” he said.
Wiring is just one aspect of the signals that concerns the department. The original signals protected the power source within cardboard tubes covered in wax. Time and the Georgia sun have all but disintegrated the coverings, leaving the wire exposed, Cassell said. The insulation that protects those wires sometimes crumbles at a touch. That leaves both traffic employees open to electrocution, and the signals themselves in danger of shorting out.
“They’ve already run into it on Telfair Street,” Edwards said. A signal shorted out there and the department had to rig overhead wiring to it.
“It’s really a credit to the signal engineers that they’ve been able to keep things going this well,” Cassell said. New signals would have rigid housing for wiring, making it easier to patch problems and run new wire. Even if an underground section is crushed accidentally, the housing can be patched, whereas it’s not feasible to weld cardboard.
Built into the SPLOST project are pedestrian upgrades and increased Americans with Disabilities Act compliance, along with street level lighting.
“The same issues that exist with the signals exist with the streetlights, so we’ve got to address both. And that’s the goal of this project,” Cassell said.
In fact, Edwards said that a streetlight rusted out at the base and fell on 14th Street about four years ago. It’s an ongoing concern for Cassell, because some of the equipment is now buried under landscaping, which increases the metal’s contact with moisture.
“We can only gauge this by looking at the ones above ground and assuming that the ones below ground are worse,” Cassell said.
Complicating matters is the design fees necessary, now estimated to be close to $1 million, something that takes a big bite out of the project funding. But the department plans to tap various state funding sources to stretch the money.
“There’s money out there. It’s just trying to gear it so we can get something that we can apply for,” he said. But every controller the city can acquire from the Georgia Department of Transportation saves $10,000-$12,000.
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