Merced pushes to synchronize traffic lights

MERCED, Calif.

The city wants to synchronize the traffic lights on two main corridors: G Street from 16th Street to Yosemite Avenue, and 16th Street between G and R streets. The second corridor, 16th Street, was included because it gets a lot of commercial traffic.

G Street is one of the busiest roads in Merced, running from the southern end of the city to the far north near UC Merced. But drivers say it can be frustrating because of the stop-and-go traffic, especially in the morning and evening.

"Actually It takes a long time because the lights are not synchronized, and so we definitely need to do something about it," said Merced resident Maria Lopez.

The intersections were last analyzed back in 2006, before the G Street underpass was built. The $18-million improvement was the largest road construction project in the city's history and came with other changes to the corridor as well.

"We've added some stop lights in there, and we've had traffic grow. We've had a lot of growth in the area, and with the growth of UC Merced we have changing traffic patterns too," said city of Merced spokesman Mike Conway.

That's why the council is now considering an $87,000 contract with a traffic engineering consulting firm to synchronize the lights.

"The idea is that by this time next year everything would be completed, done, and hopefully be able to get in your car and start at one end and get down to the other end with green lights all the way," said Conway.

Cutting the travel time may also benefit some downtown businesses. Eddie Laplante recently opened the Gionni and Bros. Pizza Co. restaurant on Main Street, and believes improving the flow of traffic would make it more convenient for students and other residents to get across town.

"I work in North Merced as well and travel back and forth, and it does take at times 15-20 minutes to get back and forth, so I like the idea of anything that would increase that trip for both patrons coming my way as well as myself," said Laplante.

City officials say synchronizing the lights would also improve air quality by reducing emissions from idling cars.

The city council on Tuesday night approved a design contract for synchronizing the traffic lights on both corridors.

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