Montrealers soon to see new signals (August 12, 2002)

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MONTREAL, Que. — Canada’s eastern-most metropolis is poised to spend $20 million to smooth urban traffic.

That means getting rid of 1,001 sets of traffic lights — electromechanical ones from the 1960s — that are as outdated as manual typewriters.

They’re breaking down more often and replacement parts are hard to find, city officials insist. That’s why city council’s executive committee voted this week to borrow the money to replace the old controls in pre-merger Montreal with electronic controls over the next three years.

In addition, 217 of the intersections — on such busy arteries as Sherbrooke Street and Pie IX, Henri Bourassa and Cremazie Boulevards — will have detectors embedded in the road surface to monitor vehicle flow.

Traffic signals are to adjust automatically to traffic flow. The pre-merger city had a total of 1,590 intersections equipped with traffic lights.

The previous administration of Pierre Bourque started upgrading them in 1998, but in smaller increments. In 2000, for instance, council approved the expenditure of nearly $1 million to upgrade 81 intersections.

A report to the executive committee from the traffic department says the city “has the unenviable title of being the last city in North America to operate electromechanical traffic lights.”

Ottavio Galella, a Montreal traffic engineering expert, says the old control boxes at the base of traffic lights determine the number of seconds a light stays green, yellow or red, but contain no electronic equipment.

“They constitute a generation of controllers that were on the market in the ’60s,” she tells local media. “Imagine.”

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