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July 25, 2012 - It's a change that probably won't be overtly noticed, but the traffic situation along M-24 has improved with the installation of a new type of technology.

A new type of traffic light timing system went into effect on July 17. The aptly named FAST-TRAC (Faster And Safer Travel - Through Routing & Advanced Controls) uses software and sensors to detect the amount of traffic present at an intersection and adjusts signal timing on the fly. It's the second largest "adaptive" traffic signal system in the nation and is currently in place at more than 675 intersections in Oakland County.

Now M-24 plays host to 12 between Silverbell and Indianwood, thanks to installations from the Road Commission for Oakland County (RCOC.)

"It was originally devised in Australia and the software is called SCATS for Sydney Coordinated Adaptive Traffic Control," said RCOC Public Information Officer Craig Bryson. "Back in the 80s we decided to look into it for Oakland County as development continued and we planned for coming congestion. We realized we would not have the money to widen all the roads so we looked for an alternative. Sydney is a place where they have much less highway roads so they used this to create more efficiency."

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Bryson said the RCOC was one of the first American organizations to bring the system stateside and back in 1992, when the system was first installed in Troy, it was based of the work of a college student.

But despite the new technology, Bryson was quick to point out that individual drivers may not notice much difference as much as someone monitoring the system as a whole.

"It is sometimes very difficult to see the difference from an individual standpoint," he said. "For example, one person seeing a three percent improvement through an intersection, you won't really notice, but if we see that through a corridor, that is significant.

"This has become the standard for Oakland County and we've also had some Michigan State University and University of Michigan studies that indicate it improves safety as well."

Bryson was also quick to point out the system does little to improve the situation of rush hour traffic because of what he called "complete saturation" of the roads. To this end he said FAST-TRAC was an improvement but not a complete solution to traffic problems. Still, the RCOC believes there will continue to be positive, incremental changes.

All in all the new intersection systems cost $850,000 (generally, each intersection costs $120,000.) Bryson said most of the money came from special federal funding so most local taxpayers did not fund the additions.

"This is a real win/win technology," said RCOC Chairman Eric Wilson. "We're very pleased to have assisted MDOT to expand the system to the M-24 corridor."

Intersections also got an upgrade for the lights themselves, with older bulbs being converted to new energy-saving LED bulbs. Crosswalks were also improved to make them compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

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