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Main Street traffic improvements must be done

February 29, 2012 | 07:28 AM
Sometimes there are difficult choices local government officials must make. There are always two sides to an issue. There's taxpayer money involved and seemingly always the way of life and future of the municipality at stake.

One upcoming decision the Lake Geneva City Council will make is whether to install state-of-the-art traffic signals on Main Street at the intersections of Center and Broad streets.

While a good percentage of most decisions are tough, this one is a no-brainer. I don't believe there is a choice in this matter. Just like the need for the Edwards Boulevard extension to Sheridan Springs Road, this is a need in the community that can't fall by the wayside.

During multiple meetings, the benefits of what is estimated to be a $310,000 expense has been explained. One of the most important aspects of these new signals is they could reduce downtown traffic congestion up to 20 percent and during the busy summer weekends, that improvement could increase to 50 percent. That will reduce fuel wasted and emissions while sitting at traffic lights and frustration for people who want to shop or have dinner downtown and can't get there quickly.

If you were to ask any visitor to the city, especially on a summer weekend, a special event or a holiday, their biggest complaint would probably be traffic. Here's a way to try to do something to make traffic flow less of a problem.

So, how will this all work?

Among the changes would be to interconnect the three traffic signals along Main Street to include Wells, Center and Broad streets, so there is less likely the chance that vehicles are stopped at more than one intersection on their way through downtown. The signals would, in essence, talk to each other to better manage the traffic flow depending on the day of the week and the time of the day.

Currently, the traffic signals are the same all the time, whether it is 10 p.m. on a Wednesday in February or 2 p.m. on a warm, sunny Saturday in July.

Intersection turn signals also would be set based on whether cars are in the turn lanes. Right now, the green turn signal goes on for several seconds even if there is no car in the turn lane to use it. That unnecessarily limits the green time for cross traffic.

These types of signals that gauge traffic currently are at the intersection of Sheridan Springs Road and Highway 120, near the Horizon Shell gas station on the north end of the city. When cars approach the intersection from Sheridan Springs, the lights receive a signal to make the change. If you have driven there, you know there isn't much waiting, regardless of which street you're on.

Another case in favor of new signals is the age of the current lights which could continue to work fine for years or stop operating at any moment. The current signals on Main Street at the intersections of Center and Broad streets are at least 30 years old. The signals apparently were installed in the 1970s and the 1980s. The underground cable is worn out and the lights aren't compatible with the newer signals on Wells Street. Those were installed in 2005 when the intersection was redone and will not need much work other than countdown timers for pedestrian crossing.

Here's another reason. The city will use already collected Tax Incremental Financing funds to pay for the new signals. For years, the money has been budgeted in the TIF to be used for intersection traffic signal improvements. Originally, much more than the $310,000 was projected and budgeted for the work.

This TIF money either is used for important and necessary projects, or it goes back to all the taxing bodies and only future borrowing would allow the city to complete an improvement such as this. TIF funds already have been included in your taxes and have been collected.

If TIF money is not spent on a project such as this, then the money shouldn't be spent on anything.

I suspect the city's remaining TIF district will be closed within the next year. Not all the millions of dollars in it right now will be spent, but there are some projects that are much more important than others — this is one of them.

When making a big decision, I like to make a list of positives and negatives. In this case, I can't think of a single negative. That should makes this an easy and justifiable decision for the City Council.

Seiser is the editor of the Regional News.


Tags: Staff Editorial

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