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An ice storm hit the Austin area the week of Jan. 30. Hundreds of thousands of residents and businesses lost power as ice-covered trees toppled power lines across the city.

Austin loses contact with hundreds of traffic signals during winter storm

Stoplights are out at the intersection of Wickersham Lane and Oltorf street, one of hundreds of signals that have stopped communicating with the city's traffic management center.
Michael Minasi
/
KUT
Stoplights are out at the intersection of Wickersham Lane and Oltorf street, one of hundreds of signals that have stopped communicating with the city's traffic management center.

About a third of Austin's traffic signals have stopped communicating with the city's traffic monitoring headquarters. The signals could be offline, flashing red or functioning flawlessly, but Austin's Mobility Management Center, or MMC, can't tell.

As of Wednesday afternoon, 385 traffic signals were disconnected out of about 1,050. The number was growing.

Austin Transportation Department says the obvious culprit is Austin Energy power outages that have afflicted some 160,000 homes and businesses as of Wednesday afternoon.

If you come across a traffic light that is not working or is flashing red, treat it as a four-way stop. "We're seeing people blow right through these intersections," Austin-Travis County EMS said in a tweet.

The MMC keeps an eye on traffic around the city using a network of sensors and real-time traffic cameras. The office in a North Austin strip mall can monitor and control stoplights remotely, although the features of each traffic signal vary depending on the make and model.

A city of Austin traffic camera partially obscured by ice overlooking Ross Road.
City of Austin
A traffic camera partially obscured by ice overlooking Ross Road.

About half the city's traffic signals have batteries, ATD says. The batteries last between four and six hours. After that, the signal goes dark.

About a third of Austin's traffic signals can be reset remotely by the MMC. Others will need in-person repairs.

ATD says crews are working "24 hours a day through the end of the weather event to make those repairs."

Nathan Bernier is the transportation reporter at KUT. He covers the big projects that are reshaping how we get around Austin, like the I-35 overhaul, the airport's rapid growth and the multibillion dollar transit expansion Project Connect. He also focuses on the daily changes that affect how we walk, bike and drive around the city. Got a tip? Email him at nbernier@kut.org. Follow him on Twitter @KUTnathan.
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