Greenfield Fire Chief exploring technology to deal with traffic congestion

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GREENFIELD, Ind – Ongoing traffic congestion in downtown Greenfield is prompting the city’s fire chief to seek a technological answer to improving response times around the city.

“It is a challenge just because of how much road construction is going on around Greenfield,” said Greenfield Fire Chief Brian Lott.

For several months, overlapping construction projects on I-70 and State Road 9, along with crashes and backups in work zones on the interstate, have been funneling extra traffic onto U.S. 40 through downtown Greenfield. In addition, recent roadwork on SR 9 replaced center turn lanes with concrete medians in the middle of the highway. The combination of factors, Lott says, can hinder first responders’ efforts to quickly arrive at emergency calls.

“In the fire business, it’s all about response time,” Lott said. “It’s all about when somebody’s unconscious, when somebody’s house is on fire, it’s all about the quickness of getting to that individual to help.”

In response to the situation, Lott is asking the city’s Board of Works to approve the purchase and installation of a GPS-based system already being used in several other central Indiana communities. The system would include installing signal-emitting devices inside city-owned emergency vehicles, and receivers on 20 traffic signals in the downtown area.

The devices work together in order to clear out civilian traffic and give approaching emergency vehicles the right of way at an intersection.

“When that fire truck, ambulance, police car or whatever gets 3,000 feet from that signal, it’ll start that process to change that signal green, so the traffic is gone before we get there,” Lott said. “It turns the light green for the direction you’re going, and it stops the cross traffic.”

The city of Greenwood installed such a system, the Opticom 3M model, about four years ago.  Fire Chief Darin Hoggatt says the system has improved his department’s ability to navigate increasingly congested Greenwood traffic.

“We still obviously drive with due regard, but it helps us get through intersections much quicker, much more safely than before,” Hoggatt said.  “If you’re coming up to a four-way intersection, it will show red in three of the directions and give a green light in the direction of travel of the fire apparatus.”

Lott said the system also helps protect civilian drivers by allowing them to move out of the way of a siren coming up behind them.  It also keeps crossing traffic from entering an intersection as an emergency vehicle is trying to make it through.

Lott said an engineering study is underway to determine what will be needed in order to install the system.  Lott estimates the cost will be between $200,000 and $300,000, which will require approval by the city’s Board of Works.  Even after surrounding construction projects are complete, Lott believes the system will be valuable as the Hancock County community continues to grow.

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