Thursday, Dec. 18, 2008 | midnight
A new wireless traffic signal management system that will soon be tested in Henderson could change the way traffic flow is managed in the Las Vegas Valley — and save local governments millions in the process.
Henderson is preparing to install the system on Pecos Road at traffic signals from Pebble Road to Sunset Road. The premise is simple: use wireless networks to coordinate and manage traffic signals and remove the need for costly underground fiber optic cable systems.
"We're very excited for the potential," Henderson Traffic Engineer John Penuelas said. "It could save us millions."
The Regional Transportation Commission is putting up about $86,000 to test the equipment on Pecos. The RTC operates the Freeways and Arterial System of Transportation, or FAST, which is a traffic management system that links signals and dynamic signs throughout the valley in an effort to control and improve traffic flow.
Brian Hoeft, who manages FAST, said Pecos is an important part of the valley's transportation infrastructure because of its connections to major freeways and streets.
"Pecos is critical from our point of view because it feeds into the (Interstate) 215 and then right into St. Rose (Parkway), so we want to get that corridor operating as smoothly as possible," he said.
While the wireless system seems preferable in many regards, engineers still aren't sure whether it will work in a system as complex as FAST. There are concerns about whether the wireless signals can handle the vast amounts of information that must be exchanged in a traffic management system, Penuelas said, which is why fiber optic cables are used in the first place.
"Fiber optics are a very big pipeline and we're just seeing if we can get a big enough pipeline with the wireless system," Penuelas said.
Hoeft said FAST presently uses copper wires and fiber optic wires, and said the best way to explain the difference would be to think of the copper as dial-up Internet speed and the fiber optic cable as broadband. The wireless system will likely fall somewhere in between the two, but closer to copper than fiber optic, which may limit its applicability, he said.
Though the capacity of the wireless system is still unknown, the savings over fiber optic cables were great enough that the chance to test the system was too good to pass up, the engineers said.
"We like the cost," Penuelas said. "It's much cheaper than putting in the fiber optic cables because you don't have to trench. And while there are maintenance costs associated with the wireless system, it's considerably less. Also, we can put it in very quickly and we don't have to disrupt traffic to do it."
Penuelas said the city hopes to begin installing the equipment in January, and it could have a sense of whether the system will work as early as next summer.
Jeremy Twitchell can be reached at 990-8928 or [email protected].