Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R) announced Wednesday that the state will begin installing $50 million worth of "smart" traffic signals that can change their own timing to help clear backups.
The signals, to be installed in 14 corridors, will use pavement sensors to detect congestion and adjust the light timing to allot more green time as needed, whether from chronic rush-hour delays or sudden accidents, Hogan said. Signals in a corridor also will sync with one another.
The state's 2,500 signals now require a technician to go out and reprogram their timing, leaving them unable to adjust quickly to keep traffic moving, state officials said. A pilot study in Harford County found a smart signal cut drive times by 13 percent, state officials said.
"We'll finally have the ability to respond to changing traffic flows and changing traffic conditions in real time, immediately," Hogan said at a news conference at the state's traffic operations center in Hanover, near Baltimore-Washington International Marshall Airport.
The "smart signals" will be installed beginning this month and will be working in parts of seven counties by the end of the year, officials said. The first ones will be on Route 2 in the Annapolis area, between Annapolis Harbor Center and Tarragon Lane.
State officials said the 14 signalized corridors will benefit nearly 700,000 motorists daily.
Maryland Transportation Secretary Pete K. Rahn said the signals will "talk" to one another. While other urban areas have similar systems in some highly congested corridors, Rahn said, he believes Maryland will be the first to have a more extensive network.
"The key here is this will work regionally, so the entire system is communicating with each other," Rahn said. "That's what's going to allow traffic to flow better."
He said it's the second phase of state traffic-relief efforts, noting that Hogan recently announced a $9 billion plan to add four toll lanes each to the Capital Beltway (Interstate 495), Interstate 270 and the Baltimore-Washington Parkway via a public-private partnership.
Gregory Slater, Maryland's state highway administrator, said the corridors chosen as starting points have compatible technology and could be converted most quickly. In the Washington suburbs, those include part of Route 108 in the Olney area of Montgomery County and parts of Route 202 and U.S. 301 in the Landover and Bowie areas of Prince George's County.
Slater said the new signals will adjust as needed 24 hours a day and will respond to even minor backups.
"It will adjust on the fly," Slater said.
Hogan said more smart signals will be installed in other areas of the state in the future.
"This is just the beginning," he said.
Montgomery officials say they're testing similar technology in traffic signals on Montrose Parkway.