SLC mayor wants $300,000 to synchronize traffic lights

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SALT LAKE CITY -- It's tough to catch a series of green lights in the city.

"It drives me nuts. I can't stand it!" driver Jared Smith complained.

Even Salt Lake City Mayor Jackie Biskupski has been stuck in a seemingly endless series of red lights.

"Yesterday, I was at a traffic light that just wouldn't ever change. So I finally made a right hand turn and got out of that lane," she told FOX 13 on Friday.

Traffic lights in Salt Lake City. (Image by Doug Eldredge, FOX 13 News)

Traffic lights in Salt Lake City. (Image by Doug Eldredge, FOX 13 News)

Biskupski is proposing spending $300,000 to better synchronize traffic lights in the city. It's part of her overall proposed city budget, awaiting public hearings and approval by the city council.

Salt Lake City Transportation Director Robin Hutcheson said the last time traffic lights were updated to deal with congestion and travel changes was about five years ago.

"Really, we should be doing this every couple of years," she said.

Hutcheson said Salt Lake City faces more challenges than other American cities when it comes to traffic light synchronization. The streets are wide and the blocks are square -- a product of Brigham Young's city planning when he brought the Mormon pioneers into the state. Young famously wanted streets so wide that an ox and wagon could make a U-turn without problems.

Wagons on Salt Lake City's Main Street in 1860. (Photo courtesy Utah State Historical Society digital collection)

Wagons on Salt Lake City's Main Street in 1860. (Photo courtesy Utah State Historical Society digital collection)

With traffic lights, Hutcheson said they have to deal with the wide streets -- and TRAX trains.

"It's a little more challenging when we have wide streets that take a long time for pedestrians to cross," she said.

An advantage to recalibrating the lights, Hutcheson said, will be helping to clear the air. Fewer cars stuck idling at a red light means fewer particulates and carbon emissions. But it will never be perfect green lights all the time, she cautioned.

Biskupski said she would like to focus on east-west running streets first. Salt Lake City would also coordinate with the Utah Department of Transportation for maintenance of streets it controls.

The Salt Lake City Council plans to discuss the traffic light idea and other parts of Biskupski's proposed budget in a series of public hearings beginning May 24.