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St. Pete roads to receive innovative tech

Mark Parker



Also known as FL-693, west St. Petersburg's 66th Street has some of the city's most dangerous intersections. Photo: Google Street View.

The Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) awarded the City of St. Petersburg a $1.16 million grant to deploy cutting-edge technology that increases safety, reduces traffic time and enables vehicle messaging.

Inclusion in the state’s Technology Application Partnerships with Local Agencies program is a significant win for city administrators and residents, as the FDOT only provides $2 million for two to four annual projects. The initiative’s goal is bolstering Connected and Automated Vehicle (CAV) technologies on state roads.

While it will take time to realize some of the equipment’s capabilities, transportation manager Cheryl Stack said the West St. Petersburg Smart Signal Corridors project would immediately improve safety and efficiency along two high-transit routes. City officials chose 10 signalized intersections on 66th Street – from Pasadena Avenue to 38th Avenue North – and five on Tyrone Boulevard – from 5th Avenue North to Park Street – to receive the upgrades.

“As we were developing the application, we looked at safety and crash data,” Stack said. “At least three of these intersections are routinely listed in the police department’s Top-10 Dangerous Crash Intersections report.”

A graphic showing crash intensity in the project area. Screengrab.

She added that while the rankings may vary in the monthly updates, that consistency indicates a systemic problem. Local leaders believe the project will help mitigate those longstanding issues.

FDOT officials agreed as they score applications according to an area’s need for safety, mobility and travel efficiency enhancements, and program feasibility. Stack noted the new infrastructure and connectivity would coordinate with the SunRunner bus rapid transit route and other county-managed corridors that already feature the technology.

New traffic signal controllers and software upgrades will provide real-time adaptive adjustments corresponding to traffic conditions. Stack explained that new video detection, rather than the current pavement sensors, would aid those efforts.

“That’s particularly important during regular peak times,” she said. “In the unfortunate event of a crash, it can redirect traffic … or provide more green time and let certain congested roadways clear. So, it has some real benefits in that regard.”

In addition, the transportation department will use some of the funding to upgrade the Traffic Management Center’s video wall display. Stack said that would enable staff to better monitor the city’s transit network.

Councilmember Copley Gerdes represents St. Petersburg’s west side, and he noted the project area accounted for nine of the city’s 10 most dangerous intersections last month. Neighborhood associations frequently relay traffic, speed and congestion concerns, and he believes the new system will provide much-needed relief.

“And it’s going to make it easier for our residents to travel across the city,” Gerdes added. “Not just the ones who live near those lights.”

Connected vehicles

The city will also receive “roadside units,” which feature connected vehicle equipment. Stack said those enable short-range communication between vehicles and signal controller cabinets.

While Stack is unsure “that we’re there yet,” the roadside units could provide motorists with construction zone, congestion and signal timing information. She said city officials are exploring adding the equipment to 1st Avenue North and South, Central Avenue, 8th Street and Dr. M.L.K. Jr. Street North.

“Those roadside units would help us with better bicycle and pedestrian detection and communicating those messages,” she explained. “There’s a lot of people there; the SunRunner is there.”

The Florida Department of Transportation’s goal is to increase Connected and Automated Vehicle technologies on state roads. Screengrab.

Councilmember Ed Montanari said governments sending motorists signals could cause potential privacy concerns, and noted the controversy surrounding red light cameras. Stack doesn’t foresee city officials deploying communication capabilities without better understanding the emerging technology.

She said they must also ensure the messages are easily interpreted and do not cause a distraction. Council Chair Brandi Gabbard compared alerts regarding lane closures and congestion to features found on Google Maps, and her hope that the system increases pedestrian and motorist safety.

“Because ultimately, for us to stop killing people on our roads is the goal,” Gabbard said. “So, if that means some notifications are coming into your technology, then by all means, I am for it.”

The FDOT grant will fully fund the West St. Petersburg Smart Signal Corridors project. Stack said her team would complete the design phase by June 2024, and construction would conclude by fall 2025.





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    March 29, 2023at9:04 pm

    This must be part of the 16.7 billions dollars the FLDOT received from the Federal government as part of the Biden Infrastructure Bill. Money is to be distributed for transportation improvements statewide over a 5 year period which started last year.

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