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Waiting game: Why some traffic lights don’t ‘see’ you during a snowstorm

Waiting game: Why some traffic lights don’t ‘see’ you during a snowstorm
Issue Time:2018-01-15

Waiting game: Why some traffic lights don’t ‘see’ you during a snowstorm




As motorists take to the roads after the snow storm, some travelers reported traffic signals not changing at intersections in Greater Williamsburg.

Cleanup efforts from Thursday to Sunday cleared the roads, but drivers have noted a strange phenomenon occurring in James City County and Williamsburg: traffic signals aren’t changing sometimes.

Motorists traveling on Monticello Avenue, Rt. 199, Jamestown Road, Settlers Market Boulevard, John Tyler Highway, and Ironbound Road have said they’ve been sitting at intersections much longer than normal, according to community reports.

Snow and ice can obscure the ‘inductive loop’ detectors in the road, according to City of Williamsburg Public Works Director Dan Clayton.

“I don’t believe the snow, in and of itself, causes the detectors in the pavement to not detect vehicles,” Clayton wrote in an email. “But instead, because of the snow, it’s difficult to see where you should stop.”

While roads in Williamsburg are maintained by the city, most roads in James City County are maintained by the Virginia Department of Transportation.

VDOT has also said the traffic signals not changing might be caused by drivers’ actions, not the traffic lights themselves.

“When the lane lines are obscured by snow and the wheel paths are not aligned with the lane, it’s probable that vehicles are not getting into the 6 feet by 40 feet detection zone and therefore the signal controller does not change because no vehicles are detected,” VDOT spokeswoman Brittany McBride Nichols wrote in an email.



For motorists though, it was an unpleasant experience.

After waiting for the traffic signals to change at the intersection of Rt. 199 and Jamestown Road, Stephanie Cleary’s family drove through a red light when they could “drive ahead safely,” Cleary wrote on Facebook.

Cleary said her vehicle was well within the lane. Retrospectively, she said, if her family was stopped by a police officer she’d have told the officer the light “never changed.”

It can be legal for motorists to travel through a red light in Virginia, but only under certain conditions.

State law allows for motorists to cross through an intersection if the traffic signals “controlling” the intersection aren’t working due to a power failure, or if another event prevents the lights “the giving of signals,” according to the law.

While some roads and intersections are still being cleared by plowing crews, Clayton is urging travelers to align their vehicles properly at intersections.

“If you don’t stop at the right place you won’t be detected,” Clayton wrote.