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By SHAINA STOCKTON
Starting Oct. 1, the traffic lights that control the flow on Jefferson Street in Galax will be taken down and replaced with stop signs, city officials said.
City Manager Keith Barker said that this decision came into play after the Virginia Department of Transportation investigated the area and concluded that the signals were outdated and unneeded.
The existing traffic lights are mechanical and run on a timer, Barker said. This means they cannot use any of the newer computer technology, such as Opticom system that allows emergency vehicles to trigger a green light. Requests from the public to synchronize the lights to the ones on Main Street were also impossible because of the mechanical makeup.
To make things more difficult, the replacement parts for the lights are no longer manufactured, so there is no way of continuing to maintain them as they are.
There were talks of upgrading the traffic light system, Barker said, but the streets were too narrow to put in the traffic control equipment or a new pole.
VDOT concluded that lights were not really needed in that area, due to the amount of traffic on Jefferson. According to Police Chief Rick Clark, Jefferson averages 3,900 cars in a 24-hour period, which works out to around two cars per minute.
Even factoring in the rush hours, it is a quiet street compared to other areas in town.
Safety has not been overlooked, however. To avoid traffic accidents, officials will take down one traffic light at a time, starting with Jefferson’s intersection with Washington Street, and working south. A total of four traffic lights will be removed.
“We are going to go about this slowly and cautiously,” Barker said.
Multiple indicators of a traffic change are also planned. To start, traffic lights will be disabled and bagged, and hanging stop signs will be put up. The bars at the intersections will be re-painted so that they are brighter and stand out more. Finally, a police car will be parked at each intersection for a time.
“We will try to do everything at one intersection that morning,” Barker said. “We want to make sure people are aware that there is a change in the traffic patterns.”
There will also be an island added to the Center Street intersection with Jefferson, with the stop sign placed in the center. Construction on this will start at the beginning of October.
Barker hopes these efforts will help to make the transition painless and improve the traffic flow through the intersections. “We will just have to be very vigilant and make sure others are aware of the changes that are taking place,” he said.