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Smart Lights Help Rocky Mount Deal with Traffic

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ROCKY MOUNT — Rocky Mountis using some new technology to solve an old problem, not being able to get around backed up traffic.

Stoplights are hooked up to a single computer system that is fairly common in larger cities. In some cases, the technology could save lives.

Everyone has been sitting at a stoplight that just will not turn green. While it's frustrating for many, it could mean life and death for emergency crews who do not have time to wait.

Rocky Mount is trying out a new system that can help solve that problem. A little grey device can actually clear an intersection if a fire truck is on the way.

"That allows basically for emergency response vehicles, particularly fire trucks, to preempt the signal, clear traffic out and decrease travel time and, therefore, response time to emergency calls that they receive," said Jonathan Boone, city traffic engineer.

The system is one of many computerized programs making the motoring life easier in Rocky Mount.

On some poles near busy intersections, a camera sends pictures back to a room at city hall.

There, employees can watch the intersections and change traffic lights by remote if a problem pops up.

"Once we see it through the camera here, we can make an adjustment on the computer and download it to the street. It takes no more than five minutes, ten at the most," said Michael Webb, signal system operator.

The system costs upwards of $2 million to install. Most of the money came from theDepartment of Transportation. It is not cheap, but engineers say it has saved countless delays because it is so efficient.

Free-flowing traffic has other benefits that go far beyond the asphalt.

"By coordinating signals, we're able to improve air quality, hopefully reduce accidents and make the roads safer for the people who are traveling," said Webb.

The city has the emergency devices at about 50 intersections. They hope to eventually have it in place at 20 more.

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Brian Bowman, Reporter
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