New Traffic Sensors in Chula Vista Aim to Reduce Delays, Interface with Autonomous Vehicles

Drivers in Chula Vista may soon notice less congestion on roads as engineers work on a new adaptive traffic control system that can also interface with autonomous vehicles.

"The whole point is for us to reduce delays, reduce travel times for people, for motorists, reduce air pollution as well," said Eddie Flores, Traffic Engineer for the City of Chula Vista. "At the end of the day, the biggest most important thing for us is to improve safety."

Currently, nearly all traffic lights in Chula Vista are operated by signal controllers that use technology from the 1970s.

Flores said the old technology, while reliable, cannot interface with the new system.

The City of Chula Vista plans to use some of its Measure P funds -- a 10-year half-cent sales tax approved by voters in 2016 for infrastructure projects -- to replace those 170 obsolete controllers.

Over the next few months, workers will finish installing state-of-the-art sensors and traffic cameras at nearly 30 intersections including: 

  • East H St (Terra Nova Plaza to Bonita High School)
  • Otay Lakes Rd (Bonita Vista Middle School to Telegraph Canyon Rd)
  • Paseo Ranchero (East H to Telegraph Canyon)
  • Telegraph Canyon Rd (Otay Lakes Rd to Canyon Plaza)

The intersections were selected based on high traffic volume and the need for upgrades.

The sensors are connected to real-time interactive maps, which engineers can monitor remotely at city offices.

The devices will continually send data back to computers, which can adjust the timing of traffic signals to reduce delays and the number of stops.

The adaptive traffic control system will also be able to communicate with future autonomous vehicles.

"A lot of the technology that's being developed for the autonomous vehicles can be used on current vehicles, or vehicles that are coming in the near future," said Flores.

Chula Vista is also one of 10 cities in the country chosen by the U.S. Department of Transportation to help test autonomous cars. The city is partnering with SANDAG and CalTrans on the initiative.

However, that designation did not include federal funding. 

"We're essentially saying to companies that are interested in demonstrating or testing their technologies that they're welcome and we're willing to work with them and look at possibilities to test their technologies," said Flores.

The city has met with camera and sensor manufacturers, as well as local tech companies over the last several months. 

As engineers lay the groundwork for future technology on the roads, they're realistic about its possibilities. 

"The misconception is that these vehicles are going to be driving themselves, and that's not something that's happening in the next few years," said Flores.

Chula Vista's Adaptive Traffic Control System is part of the city's overall infrastructure plan. 

The system cost about $1.5 million and was paid for by a grant from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and developer impact fees. 

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