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Citizen calls for local control of traffic lights

by BILL BULEY
Staff Writer | February 22, 2024 1:07 AM

COEUR d’ALENE — Bill Brizee didn’t come to the Coeur d’Alene City Council meeting Tuesday to complain about the traffic.

He came to offer solutions.

“We wonder why the traffic isn’t flowing better,” Brizee said.

The Hayden man handed over a resolution that calls for the city to take over synchronization of traffic lights on Government Way and U.S. 95 from the Idaho Transportation Department.

He said local control would be a better way to coordinate traffic lights, allow for increased capacity and provide the ability to “make corrections as necessary” in certain situations, such as accidents.

“We cannot control all traffic lights right now because ITD governs and controls a lot of them,” Brizee said.

He said the state controls the east-west traffic lights on Government Way, while the city controls the north-south traffic lights.

“What can go wrong with that?” Brizee asked.

Glenn Miles, executive director of the Kootenai Metropolitan Planning Organization, said a traffic management center they had proposed would have accomplished what Brizee wants to see happen. But a TMC study was pulled last year after public outcry over the need, cost and how information collected by the TMC would be used.

The canceled KMPO study estimated the initial cost to develop a traffic management center in Kootenai County to be $6.2 million. To build a TMC and operate it for 20 years would cost about $15 million.

Miles said U.S. 95 is a federal highway and the state is responsible for its traffic light operations and maintenance.

“They can't just give it to somebody else to take care of,” he said.

Miles said trying to improve traffic flow is like playing 3D chess. There are vehicles coming from all directions, making turns, traveling at varying speeds, and they meet at intersections.

It’s not just a matter of synchronizing lights to make everything flow smoothly, Miles said.

“It’s a little more complicated than that,” he said. 

Adjusting lights to stay green longer in one direction can create delays and backups in another, Miles said.

“You can fix part of it, but you can't fix all of it," he said.

A solution to traffic congestion requires an interconnected communication system operated by a cooperative agency, which is what a TMC would provide, Miles said.

“No one agency is king of the lights,” Miles said.

But Miles said Brizee is on the right track with his desire to improve traffic flow.

“We all want the same thing,” Miles said. 

Brizee, an architect, said he has talked with the ITD and area cities about his proposal that traffic lights should be handled locally, and plans to talk to more.

“So far, nothing has happened,” he said.

But he'll keep at it. He said improved traffic flow will control speeds and reduce accidents. He doesn’t believe a traffic management center is necessary.

“I think coordinating the traffic lights can be done first,” Brizee said.

The city has been looking to improve signal lights coordination on Government Way.

City traffic counts estimate that more than 16,000 vehicles pass through Coeur d'Alene's busiest sections of Government Way each day.

The city reportedly received about $4 million in grant funds through the Local Highway Technical Assistance Council to upgrade up to 10 signals from Harrison Avenue to Prairie Avenue.

The plan is to add radio communication so the signals can communicate with each other. A signal coordination plan would be developed by traffic engineers.

"The signals will talk to each other and we can get some progression going through the corridor rather than arriving on red lights," said Chris Bosley, city engineer, in a previous Press story.

Brizee's second proposal to improve traffic was based on what he saw in Tucson, Ariz. There, a main arterial near downtown had signs that told drivers they would hit the next green light if they traveled at a certain speed.

“That is a proactive way of controlling traffic,” Brizee said.

He said he drove a mile out of his way to use that road.

“I would get downtown faster than I would normally,” Brizee said.

Same thing in Coeur d'Alene.

Brizee said he uses Fourth Street and Ramsey Road and Northwest Boulevard for most of his north-south travel.

"I don’t mind going 25, roundabouts and stoplights. I think that’s faster than driving down Government Way or 95,” he said.

ITD could not be reached for comment.