Navarre Beach is getting a new traffic signal soon that aims to alleviate traffic coming on and off the beach.
The signal will be one of the first that implements real-time traffic monitoring, which officials hope to eventually roll out at all traffic signals in Santa Rosa County.
The signal will be at the intersection of the Navarre Beach Causeway and Gulf Boulevard, which is currently a four-way stop. Traffic gets backed up on both the bridge and Gulf Boulevard during peak beach season, leaving some motorists stranded for an hour or more just to go a couple of miles.
“Traffic over the bridge has jumped tremendously over the past five or so years,” District 4 County Commissioner Dave Piech told the News Journal on Wednesday. “This will be designed with a future traffic control system in mind that TPO (Transportation Planning Organization) is pushing hard to get for both Escambia and Santa Rosa counties, allowing us to be able to move traffic to save deputies from having to stop and get out of their cars and direct traffic.”
The synced-up lights will be a godsend for emergency services, said Navarre Beach Fire Rescue Chief Danny Fureigh.
“Right now, most of the time on the weekends, traffic is blocked up way past our station and it’s difficult for us to cross the bridge for mutual aid calls,” he said. “This should definitely help with our responses and access off and on the island.”
The design for the new light will cost $35,000 and the installation and construction will cost between $300,000 and $400,000. The Navarre Beach light will be synced up to the traffic light at U.S. 98 and State Road 87, just a stone’s throw from the causeway turnoff, to help ease the flow of traffic at both intersections and reduce some of the congestion at peak times on U.S. 98.
Real people will be watching cameras on traffic signals, looking for accidents
The light-syncing technology is known as Intelligent Transportation System (ITS) Signalization Equipment, and Piech said the TPO is working to get the system installed county-wide in both Escambia and Santa Rosa. The system works by installing real-time cameras and sensors into each traffic signal, and a traffic monitoring person will be in a terminal in a central office watching the traffic in real time.
If there’s an accident, for instance, the person monitoring traffic can sync up the lights around the accident intersection to allow for emergency crews to get to the scene quicker, or to keep other cars away from the intersection by holding them at red lights.
“All the traffic signals in a lot of areas in major cities have cameras and sensors monitored 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Someone’s sitting in a terminal going, ‘Oh no, here’s an accident at this intersection,’ and that person can switch the traffic signals in real time instead of just relying on standard timing,” Piech said. “The people watching these signals can change them in an instant.”
Piech said some areas of Escambia already have the ITS traffic signals. The TPO has agreed to pay for the monitoring costs for both counties, although the counties will be responsible for paying the fees for the ITS installation.
Commissioners on Tuesday night agreed to pay $133,575 for ITS outfitting of the lights at the causeway intersection, State Road 87 and U.S. 98 intersection and four of the Five Points intersections.
“We know this system is coming, and we want to upgrade some signals now so we can get that big benefit later. It’s like doing some of the work for the big system early,” Piech said.
The board chairman from Navarre cautioned that the traffic monitors won’t be spying on people for traffic violations, and only will be looking for accidents that necessitate signal changes.
“They’re going to be monitoring cameras on these intersections, just like the cameras all over the interstate and in every major city,” he said. “It’s not going to be for regulatory purposes. If you run a red light, the operator isn’t going to turn you into the police. It’s solely based on dealing with traffic.”
Annie Blanks can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 850-435-8632.