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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.

Some Austin traffic signals are still dark, making intersections more dangerous

A yellow traffic signal that's not working hanging horizontally from a steel pole. A blue sky forms the background.
Michael Minasi
Austin doesn't know how many traffic signals aren't working, because half of them have stopped communicating with the city's traffic monitoring center.

The ice is gone, and broken branches are being chainsawed to pieces. But another hazard still menaces people trying to move through Austin: dead traffic lights.

"I just took a chance on it," laughed Daniel Jones, who ran across a busy pedestrian crossing at South First Street and Stassney Lane on Friday afternoon. "It looks like everybody's looking out for everybody, though."

When traffic lights are out, drivers are supposed to treat the intersection like a four-way stop.

They often don't. Austin-Travis County EMS says the "vast majority" of crashes they're responding to are happening at intersections with no traffic lights. It's even worse at night, an EMS spokesperson said.

An aerial animated gif showing drivers going through an intersection at South First and Flournoy Drive.
Nathan Bernier
Drivers plow through the intersection at South First and Flournoy Drive Friday afternoon, while the traffic signal wasn't workingMotorists are supposed to treat such intersections as a four-way stop.

The Austin Police Department says no officers are available to direct traffic at busy intersections. An APD spokesperson said police are too busy responding to more serious calls.

The Austin Transportation Department doesn't know exactly how many stoplights aren't working. About half of the city's 1,050 traffic signals stopped communicating with Austin's traffic monitoring center.

Some of those traffic lights might still be working. But the city can't tell, because the digital communication path is linked in a series. One traffic signal communicates with the next and so on. So if a stoplight loses power, it cuts off communication with others further down the fiber-optic connection.

City employees are driving around and locating dark stoplights. As of Friday morning, they had counted 85 non-functioning lights. Brian Craig, a managing engineer with ATD, offered an "educated guess" that as many as 200 more could be dark.

Dark stoplights at the intersection of Manor and Springdale roads. A blue car zips by. An Autozone sign towers in the background. The street sign "Manor Rd 6600" can be seen mounted on a utility pole.
Michael Minasi
Stoplights were out at the intersection of Manor and Springdale roads on Friday, one of at least dozens of intersections without functioning traffic signals.

The city has no estimate on when all traffic signals will start working again.

"That's all dependent on Austin Energy and when they get the [power] back online," Craig said.

As of Friday afternoon, about 21% of Austin Energy customers — some 112,000 homes and businesses — still had no power. The process to restore electricity islong and drawn out.

When power comes back, traffic signals sometimes get stuck flashing red. Those signals need to be reset. Sometimes, the reset can be done remotely from the city's traffic monitoring center. At other times, the reset has to be done in person.

The seemingly random distribution of the power outages — based on which tree or branch fell on a power line — means it will take longer to reset traffic signals than it did after Winter Storm Uri in February 2021.

"Back then, it was very easy to make a a drive down corridors and reset 15 traffic signals," Craig said. "Now, we're finding situations where we need to make multiple visits to a corridor as power comes back up there. The outages [are] much smaller in nature, but there are a lot more of them."

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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 Follow him on Twitter @KUTnathan.
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