I-Team: Drivers warming up to new I-540 signal lights

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The state is keeping close track of commute times.

After a rocky roll-out a little more than a week ago, the on-ramp signal lights at four entrances to I-540 have been working as planned for more than a week now, according to DOT officials. Early data suggests the lights, which only allow one car at a time to enter the highway during peak traffic, have made a slight difference in a number of commute times. But DOT project chief John Sandor says in a few months, they'll have much more data to help them know just how much faster the lights make morning commutes.

Through an outside contractor, the state is keeping close track of commute times from nine starting points along the four main roads that have on-ramp signals -- Leesville, Creedmoor, Six Forks, and Falls of Neuse. They're comparing that data to standard commute times gathered in the weeks before the lights went active.

This DOT video shows how the lights are supposed to work
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DOT video on how the lights work



So far, the DOT has only provided data from last Friday. The I-Team has requested more recent information; we'll post it as soon as we get it. But drivers agree, in the first week, the lights do appear to have made traffic on 540 move more quickly during the morning commute.

"I definitely think it's helping because people struggle merging onto the highway all the time," said Raleigh landscaper Sam Brown. ""It's definitely helpful."

RELATED: OTHER AREAS THE DOT IS STUDYING FOR THE LIGHT SYSTEMS (.pdf)

Jerry Diamond, a realtor in Raleigh who moved here from California agrees. "I think it is an improvement because it does slow the traffic getting on. You do go faster when you get on 540."

We heard the same from Raleigh businessman Rick Moore. "From what I've seen on 540 it helps a lot. Especially right here, between Creedmoor and Six Forks, it helps a lot."

Still, all those drivers and many more complained of other drivers still not quite getting it. "They're all in one lane, they're not in both lanes," said Diamond. California has installed 1,000 of the metered signal lights and Diamond says people have to know how to use them in order for them to be effective. "There's a learning curve."

Drivers also reported more traffic on the side roads because of the stop and go at the bottom of the on-ramp. But ask the DOT, and officials will tell you, that means the plan is working. In theory, a smoother ride along 540 will make any other slow downs worth it. And John Sandor told the I-Team, if the project goes well, it will likely be expanded to other roads in the state. The I-Team has learned that roads around Charlotte and Winston-Salem are under consideration.

But when it comes to 540, many drivers we talked to remain skeptical of its long-term success.

"It's a supply and demand issue," said Raleigh's Gary Storr. He works in RTP and says the return trip eastbound along 540 in the late afternoon is as bad or worse than the morning commute westbound. "There's more demand for the road surface than there is on lanes. It's just too much congestion."

Jerry Diamond agreed. "It's going to relieve traffic for right now but, as we grow, the same thing is going to happen like in California. You're going to get on and it's just going to stop because there are too many cars."

The DOT's John Sandor acknowledged that the lights are a relatively short-term solution but at a cost of under $1.5 million, Sandor said it was the best option right now. The state is considering a project to widen the shoulders along 540 but that isn't slated until 2025.

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