Galax changing signals

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By April Wright, Reporter

Throughout the next few weeks, the City of Galax will phase out the current loop system at intersections along East Stuart Drive (U.S. 58) and install cameras above traffic signals to improve the traffic flow patterns and help save the city money.

Installing cameras at one intersection each time, it may take six to eight weeks to install all of the cameras. The city will start at the Cranberry Road/East Stuart Drive intersection on Monday, closing one lane of traffic for the installation.

Other signals to be upgraded include 58’s intersections at Wal-Mart, Taylorwood Road, the Food City Shopping Center, Meadow Street/CVS and North Main Street.

The city's stoplights use a loop system — older technology involving sensors in the pavement — which is slow to respond and detect traffic movement.

Keith Barker, assistant city manager, said the new cameras would reduce the backup of traffic — a main cause of traffic accidents — because they detect motion easier than the loop system.

(These aren’t the kind of traffic cameras that are used to catch speeders and drivers running redlights. They just control the traffic lights.)

Galax Police Chief Rick Clark noted that there were 188 car accidents last year in the city, with 57 reported injuries and one fatality.

"The top 10 accident locations remain constant," said Clark. "Only one of the top 10 locations is not between Subway [at the Glendale Road intersection] and the east city limits on Stuart Drive."

Installing these cameras is not only the modern method of controlling traffic flow, it's also more cost effective than the loop system. When layers of asphalt are worn down, Barker said, the cables can be broken. If the cable breaks, it's difficult to find the damage.

Therefore, a whole new loop system has to be installed. Because the system is in the ground, the city has to hire a private contractor to reinstall the cable. But the installation of cameras can be done in-house by city technicians.

Cameras are already in place at the intersection of North Main and 58 and at South Main and Meadow Street beside E&L Diamond. Barker said the city placed a camera at the intersection of South Main and Meadow Street because the loop system was damaged when the Virginia Department of Transportation milled down the roadway before repaving.

"We found out that the camera would cost $6,000, but a new loop would cost $6,000 plus labor," said Barker. "Also, one camera would have the ability to see across three lanes of traffic."

Since the cameras are located on the mast arms beside of traffic lights, there is no danger of damaging the camera when making improvements to the pavement.

Barker said that, because the city was able to purchase them in bulk, it would only cost the city $3,900 per camera. The total cost of the camera system is $119,081.

The installation of the cameras is in preparation for the improvements that will be made to the pavement on 58. Barker said that, if the budget allows it, he anticipates that the roadwork would begin at the intersection at Wal-Mart and end near Subway.

Beginning in late summer or early fall, VDOT will mill down the asphalt on 58 to reduce the height of the pavement and repave it. Barker said 58 hasn't been paved in 10 years and, with 20,000 cars passing over 58 in the city each day, it is the most traveled roadway in Galax.

Galax has received matched funding from VDOT to reduce the paving project’s cost. The city will pay half the cost, or $372,460.

The cost of the cameras will count as part of that funding.

• To assist motorists, The Gazette will publish when and where the cameras are being installed as the schedule is announced.