TX - Glitch in traffic lights adds to downtown's congestion

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Nov. 29, 2000, 11:32PM

By RAD SALLEE Copyright 2000 Houston Chronicle

Downtown drivers, accustomed to road construction, traffic delays and shifting lane closures, had to contend with another headache Tuesday evening and Wednesday morning: unsynchronized traffic lights at nearly 100 intersections.

The problem, which was fixed Wednesday, was caused by short circuits in an underground cable to a traffic-signal control panel, said Wes Johnson, spokesman for the city's public works department.

Traffic backed up on some of the freeway exit ramps, such as the one from Interstate 45 onto Milam Street, where Johnson got stuck on his way to work.

"Normally when the light turns green you can make two or three intersections before it turns red again," he said. "But for two or three streets down there, it all seemed to be back-to-back stoplights."

Public-works spokeswoman Jane Kelso said workers had determined the cable was shorted out at two locations, Lamar Street between Bagby and Louisiana, near the control panel, and Louisiana between Texas Avenue and Rusk.

Kelso said the problem was reported around 3:30 p.m. Tuesday and was repaired shortly after noon Wednesday.

She and Johnson said it was not known whether the short was caused by rainwater seeping underground or whether the cable was damaged by workers rebuilding streets or laying utility and telecommunications cable.

Houston police spokesman Martin DeLeon said Main, Travis and Milam streets were directly affected, along with cross streets Crawford and Dallas, and many others were indirectly affected by the resulting congestion.

DeLeon said the usual force of 18 to 20 officers assigned to direct morning traffic downtown was increased to about 30 officers, who moved from one intersection to another as the lights were brought back under control.

"Every available officer in the special-operations division was called in to help," he said.

DeLeon said that when traffic lights are not functioning, an intersection should be treated as a four-way stop and drivers should proceed with extreme caution.


-- Doris (nocents@bellsouth.net), November 30, 2000

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