“Frustrating. Backed-Up. Time-consuming.”
Whitney Sims describes driving on Mobile’s Airport Boulevard.
“If I can avoid Airport, I do it at all costs,” she says.
Sims drives one of about 50,000 cars that are on Airport every day between the Malls and Azalea Road. Drivers say traffic flows there anything but smoothly.
“About 3:30 to 6:00, you’re in for a rude awakening,” said Christopher Ward
“Traffic is especially bad around 5:00,” added Elizabeth Strom. “I don’t leave my house after 5:00, because I know better.”
Some days, drivers say, it seems like they miss every light!
“And then you have to wait on everyone else to go,” said Keith Pritchett. “Then you go down to the next light and do the same thing. You have to wait all over again, just a block down the road.”
Part of the problem is how the traffic lights work. City Traffic Engineer Jennifer White says they’re triggered by cables in the road, or cameras, as to the volume of cars at an intersection. But especially the in-road signals don’t work too well.
“They’re very susceptible to being broken very easily, especially with the heat of our summers and the asphalt contracting and expanding,” White said.
When sensors don’t work, lights default to various rotations depending on the time of day and anticipated traffic volume. There are control boxes at every intersection that are supposed to communicate with each other. But on Airport Blvd., they typically do not.
“The communication on them is a very antiquated form of communication,” White said. “Some don’t have any communication between controllers.”
That’s why the city is spending a half million dollars to update the signalization system on Airport between Sage Ave. and Azalea Road. Work began this week. In some places, new sensors are going in the road. All the boxes are having their computers systems updated.
“We’re hoping that you’ll miss that stopping at every intersection,” said White. “So we’re hoping that will save minutes off of everybody’s travel time by doing that.”
And that’s exactly what drivers want to hear.
“That’d save me a lot of time,” Ward said.
“That would be amazing,” added Sims.
“That’d be a start anyhow,” said Pritchett.
White says she hopes that by syncing the lights better and decreasing wait times, Airport will become safer, as less frustrated drivers will less likely to run red-lights.
Signal improvements further west on Airport, where equipment is more up-to-date, are scheduled for 2019.