Raleigh Report

Report: Computerized stoplights eased Raleigh snow gridlock


It might be little consolation to anyone who spent four hours in snowy gridlock last week, but Raleigh’s traffic jam could have been worse.

After the roads finally cleared last Wednesday, transportation operations manager Mike Kennon sent a report to the city council. He said the city’s traffic control center kept a close eye as commuters jammed nearly every major road in town, and the center’s staff adjusted traffic lights to give drivers more green.

The city has spent years and $28 million working to synchronize traffic lights on dozens of its busiest roads, speeding commutes and saving time and money. The five-member staff at the traffic center in the basement of city hall can change the timing of the lights whenever back-ups occur.

“Traffic control implemented the peak-hour traffic signal plans to give as much time to the main thoroughfares as possible, allowing traffic to continue moving,” Kennon wrote to the council.

But even the adjusted stop lights couldn’t fix problems caused by stuck and abandoned cars. “We did notice some sporadic driver maneuvers which slowed main thoroughfares down by blocking moving traffic,” Kennon said.

The worst jams, he said, occurred on the south side of Raleigh, where the snow started earliest and fell heaviest: South Saunders Street, Hammond Road, Glenwood Avenue and Western Boulevard were the first to get clogged.

By 6 p.m. Wednesday, however, most of the roads had cleared of cars – with two exceptions. Five hours after the gridlock began, traffic still wasn’t moving much on Glenwood Avenue just west of Crabtree Valley Mall (home of iconic flaming car) and on U.S. 401 heading toward Fuquay-Varina. On 401, according to Kennon, a steep hill near Simpkins Road snarled traffic.