Adaptive Traffic Signals Reduce Delay, Increase Safety, and Improve Public Satisfaction

Could adaptive traffic signals improve traffic flow in your municipality? Read on to learn:
• The benefits of adaptive traffic signals.
• How they work (and what technology/equipment is required).
• How much adaptive traffic signals cost.
• Where you can obtain funding for implementing adaptive traffic signals.

As traffic engineers, friends have asked us for years if we could give them a magic button to turn traffic signals green whenever they approach the intersection. We smile and chuckle at the joke, but the truth is: The technology already exists for traffic signals to sense cars approaching the intersection and adjust their phasing in response.  It’s called adaptive traffic signal control, and you may already have encountered it in your travels without knowing it.

advanced traffic signal with mounted camera

Cameras mounted on the mast arm detect oncoming traffic and send this information to a central computer.


What are adaptive traffic signals?

In the simplest sense, adaptive traffic signals adjust the timing of their green light cycles to match current traffic conditions on the ground. They are constantly collecting data about approaching vehicles and creating new timing sequences to match them.

It’s this second part that distinguishes them from the responsive signal systems many municipalities have today.  While a responsive system will adjust timings based on current traffic conditions, it can only respond with one of its preset cycle programs – trying to find the closest match it can.  An adaptive system creates a completely new timing sequence that is customized to current conditions.

It’s a very efficient way to move traffic through a busy corridor.

How do they work?

  • Video cameras and sensors collect information about the vehicles approaching an intersection.
  • Software analyzes this information and creates a customized timing sequence in real time.
  • The software communicates this sequence to coordinated signals up and down the corridor, so that they all function in sync with each other.

What are the advantages of adaptive traffic signals?

They move traffic along faster and with fewer stops. Signals are constantly being reprogrammed to maximize the green light length and allow the most cars through.  Multiple intersections are coordinated, so that traffic can move freely throughout the corridor, rather than encountering frequent starts and stops.

(It’s important to note, however, that adaptive signals cannot create more time or capacity. They simply allocate time in a more efficient manner.)

A study by the Federal Highway Administration shows that adaptive traffic signals can improve travel time by 10% on average. Intersections with particularly outdated timing plans can see travel time improve by as much as 50%.

Our client, Monroeville, saw travel time reductions of 20% when it installed adaptive traffic signals along the William Penn Highway (Route 22).

advanced traffic signals on Rt. 22 in Monroeville, PA

Adaptive traffic signals along Route 22 in Monroeville reduced travel time by 20% and the frequency of stops by 87%.


Adaptive traffic signals increase safety by reducing stops (and thus the opportunity for rear-end collisions).

Monroeville saw an 87% reduction in stops along the William Penn Highway after it installed adaptive traffic signals. It stands to reason this would prevent accidents, and data in other cities bears this out.

  • In Troy, Michigan, collisions causing serious injury were cut in half after adaptive traffic signals were implemented there.
  • Crashes fell by 38% in West Des Moines, Iowa, after the city installed an adaptive traffic signal system on the Jordan Creek Parkway.

Photo by Daniel Oines. Published here under a Creative Commons license.

advanced traffic signals can cut down on rear end collisions

Reducing the time cars spend stopped in traffic reduces the opportunity for rear-end collisions.


They tame the chaos that often occurs in unforeseen circumstances (like traffic accidents or special events). A conventional traffic signal system can only respond with pre-timed cycles – none of which are likely to be the best approach for an emergency situation like a lane closure caused by an accident or a downed tree.  Likewise, a special event may cause significant, unanticipated changes in traffic patterns that a conventional system could not respond to adequately.

An adaptive traffic signal system can rewrite the timing to fit the changing situation on the ground. Immediately. The moment the event occurs. (When necessary, municipal staff can override the timings manually– while viewing camera feeds from a remote location– to help emergency response times.)

They increase customer satisfaction and reduce complaints.

Drivers spend an average of 36 hours per year waiting in traffic – even more if they live and work in the city. This is frustrating, and people often complain to their representatives about the roadways where they wait the longest.  If you can reduce those wait times, you will reduce the complaints, as well, and relieve driver frustrations.

In the Harrisburg area, drivers have commented to us about how much better it is to drive on the Carlisle Pike and Route 22 corridors since adaptive signals were installed. Many have told us how they used to hit every red light, but now they cruise through a sea of green, making it to their destination much faster.

Photo via the State Farm Flicker page. Published here under a Creative Commons license.

adaptive traffic signals reduce the time people spend in traffic

Make your drivers happy: Adaptive traffic signals reduce the amount of time people sit in traffic and saves them money on gas and lost productivity.


Adaptive signal systems save drivers money and reduce vehicle emissions.

Reducing delays in this way doesn’t just save drivers time; it also saves them money. A study by the Texas Transportation Institute estimated that Americans waste more than $87 billion per year on gas and lost productivity due to congestion.  That’s more than $700 per driver!  The Centre for Economics and Business Research estimates those costs will rise by 50% over the next 15 years.  But adaptive traffic signals can help us bring those costs down by reducing congestion and delay.

This will also reduce vehicle emissions, providing cleaner air for us all to breathe.

adaptive traffic signals can reduce vehicle emissions

Adaptive traffic signals make traffic move more efficiently and reduce the time cars idle in traffic. This reduces vehicle emissions. (Photo by Ruben de Rijcke. Used via Creative Commons license.)


Where are adaptive traffic signals currently in use?

Over the past several years, PennDOT has been working with municipalities to implement adaptive traffic signals across the state.

  • In Central Pennsylvania, adaptive traffic signals have been installed at more than 40 intersections in Cumberland County and Dauphin County. The primary locations are along the Carlisle Pike and Route 22. Route 422 in Lebanon County and Route 501 in Lancaster County also have adaptive systems.
  • In Western Pennsylvania, adaptive traffic signals have been implemented along 18 intersections of the William Penn Highway in Monroeville.
  • In the State College area, adaptive traffic signals are being installed in Patton Township along Valley Vista Drive where it intersects with Green Tech Drive, North Atherton Street, Lowe’s Centre Driveway, and Carnegie Drive.   Adaptive signals will also be installed on the Waddle Road Corridor.

In fact, 3 percent of the nation’s traffic signals use adaptive signal control technology, and that number is rising fast. According to the Laboratory for Adaptive Traffic Operations & Management at Florida Atlantic University, the number of intersections with adaptive signal control rose by more than 40% between 2009 and 2014. Likewise, the number of agencies using them increased from just 30 to almost 150.  (The laboratory tracks the number of locations using adaptive traffic signals across the United State on a map.)

What does it cost to implement adaptive traffic signals?

The cost to implement adaptive traffic signal systems averages between $30,000 – $50,000 per intersection, according to data from the Laboratory for Adaptive Traffic Operations & Management at Florida Atlantic University.

Other studies by the Institute of Transportation Engineers and similar experts in the field have placed the numbers in this range, as well, but the cost can vary widely. (We found numbers as low as $20,000 per intersection and as high as $65,000.)

One reason costs vary is because adaptive traffic signal systems have many components, and each one has its own pricing variables:

  • New hardware and software
  • Detection devices (radar, loops, video)
  • Controller upgrades
  • Interconnection and communication changes (if intersections are not already interconnected)
  • Staff training
  • Traffic studies

The cost will depend largely on what brand system you choose because different systems have different software and equipment requirements. (Also, some require more training than others.)

The cost will also depend on the current state of your intersections. Many municipalities already have detection devices installed and have already interconnected signals along busy corridors. Costs to implement adaptive traffic signals at intersections like these would obviously be lower than at an intersection that doesn’t have these components.

Is there funding for adaptive traffic signal systems?

Yes, funding is available to help defray the cost of implementing adaptive traffic signals.

  • Programs like Green Light Go and Automated Red Light Enforcement monies could be used successfully to fund these projects in Pennsylvania. (Our article on applying for Act 89 grants provides more insight on the Green Light Go program.)
  • Full or partial funding could also be obtained through the land development process as traffic mitigation required during completion of a traffic impact study.
  • Federal Congestion Mitigation/Air Quality funds are another option that has been used in the past.
  • Other programs that could provide funding include:
    • The Commonwealth Financing Authority Multimodal Transportation Fund
    • PennDOT Multimodal Transportation Fund
    • Pennsylvania Infrastructure Bank
    • Pennsylvania Municipal Liquid Fuels Funds

In Conclusion

traffic signal
Even though it is a significant investment, adaptive traffic signals may be worth the cost because of the benefits they produce:

  • reducing travel time and stop frequency,
  • reducing the number of rear-end collisions,
  • increasing customer satisfaction,
  • reducing the costs of congestion (like fuel and lost time), and
  • reducing vehicle emissions.

Adaptive systems can also handle unforeseen circumstances like a traffic accident or special event traffic better than conventional systems can.

Municipalities who do implement the technology should budget $60,000 per intersection, but the actual cost will depend on the system the municipality chooses and the current technology deployed on its intersections (i.e. the changes or upgrades the intersections will require).

Funding from grant programs like Green Light Go and Automated Red Light Enforcement can be used to defray these costs.

To discuss how adaptive traffic signals could benefit your municipality, contact Eric Stump or Darren Myer.

Eric Stump, P.E., PTOEEric Stump, is the traffic team leader for HRG’s Eastern Region. His experience includes preparing traffic impact studies for developments and reviewing them for municipalities, preparing signal permit and construction plans, developing coordination programs, preparing Highway Occupancy Permit applications, and more.  He has provided municipal review services for several municipalities implementing adaptive traffic signals and recently designed a system for Derry Township.


Darren Myer, P.E., PTOEMyer, is the manager of transportation services for HRG’s Western Region. In this role, he oversees the delivery of all roadway, traffic, and bridge projects HRG completes in Western Pennsylvania.  Myer also serves as the traffic engineer for several municipalities, including Monroeville, which recently implemented an adaptive traffic signal system along the William Penn Highway.


GUIDE: How to Obtain Act 89 Funding For Your Municipality

Cover of HRG's Guide to Obtaining Act 89 Transportation FundingIn 2013, Pennsylvania enacted Act 89 to increase funding for roadway, bridge and traffic projects.  This legislation increases transportation funding by uncapping the oil company franchise tax, increasing fees for driver services like vehicle registration and license plates, and increasing fines for traffic violations.

Thanks to this legislation, local governments are already benefitting from an increase in their Liquid Fuels disbursements, but millions of additional dollars are available to municipalities who know how to access them. Act 89 funding is not distributed through one umbrella program. It is actually disbursed through several different initiatives:

  •  The Multi-Modal Fund
  •  The Green Light Go program
  •  Low Volume Road/Dirt & Gravel Road Funding
  •  A bridge bundling initiative

In order to obtain the money for which your community is eligible, you’ll need to understand the different programs and the application requirements of each. In order to meet these requirements, you’ll need to implement a long-term strategic planning approach like asset management and capital improvement planning.

This guide can help you do that. In it, we will tell you:

  • What types of projects are eligible for act 89 funding
  • What information grant agencies are looking for
  • Ways to position your projects for grant success

Download our guide and learn how to obtain act 89 funding for your municipality!

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Duke Street Illustrates an Infrastructure Funding Solution

  • Dauphin County has eliminated all of its load-posted, structurally deficient bridges with an ambitious approach to infrastructure funding.
  • Now the county is using the money it’s saved to fund a new infrastructure program benefiting its municipalities and private sector.
  • The program has already funded 10 projects worth $11 million with just a $1 million investment from the county.
  • Read on to learn more about Dauphin County’s innovative infrastructure funding solution.

Duke Street Bridge Under Construction

We begin this story in its final chapter, celebrating the construction of the Duke Street Bridge in Hummelstown Borough and South Hanover Township.

It’s a story that plays out all over America every day: a local government struggling to address aging, deteriorating infrastructure.

But Dauphin County’s story is different. With HRG’s help, they’ve found a solution to the infrastructure funding problem and are turning the page to a new, brighter future: a future they have the freedom to author themselves.

How did they get here? Asset management and capital improvement planning.

Ambitious Capital Improvement Program Eliminates Structurally Deficient Bridges

In 1984, 1/3 of Dauphin County’s bridges were structurally deficient. It’s the kind of problem many local governments – under tight budget constraints – might find insurmountable.  But Dauphin County knew that solving big problems is not done in one swift motion; it’s accomplished piece-by-piece.

Accordingly, HRG designed a long-term asset management and capital improvement planning program for them. It has several components:

  • Inspecting and assessing the condition of each county-owned bridge every two years.
  • Identifying the appropriate type and timing of maintenance, restoration or replacement measures.
  • Creating (and updating) a Bridge Improvement Plan that prioritizes these measures over a 10-year period. (Projects are ranked not just on the bridge’s structural condition but also its importance to the local transportation network [as determined by the amount of traffic it carries, whether it’s located on EMS or school bus routes, etc.])
  • Using this data to seek funding.
  • Leveraging this funding to complete projects over time, addressing the most urgent needs first and steadily whittling that list of structural deficiencies down to nothing.
Roadway Conditions Over Time Graph

 Our article on Better Roads for Less Money illustrates how proactive maintenance can maximize the usefulness of infrastructure at a lower cost than the typical reactive approach.

By taking a proactive approach like this (vs a reactive approach that addresses bridges only after they’ve failed), Dauphin County extends the life of its bridges, maximizing their usefulness while minimizing their life cycle cost.

They also position themselves well for outside funding. A good capital improvement plan includes plenty of data about how many people rely on a piece of infrastructure and how they would be impacted if it were to fail or be taken out of service.  This information is very persuasive to funding agencies, who want to make sure their investment provides the biggest possible benefit to the community.

But agencies also want to be sure the money they invest will produce results: that the project will successfully transition from concept to construction. A well-designed capital improvement plan does just that. It shows you have identified exactly what is required to get a project built (including the timelines for permits and approvals) and that you know the full scope and cost of what you want to accomplish.  It also shows you have allocated money in advance to get the job done.

This level of detail reassures funding agencies that the money they invest will be used wisely and the project will be completed successfully. (See our article on Positioning Yourself for Grant Funding for more detail.)

In fact, funding agencies are increasingly requiring data like this in their application process, so a capital improvement plan is quickly transforming from a nice-to-have item into a necessary part of your infrastructure approach. (Our article on successfully applying for Pennsylvania Act 89 transportation funding explains this in more detail.)

Many pages have been written about Dauphin County’s success with this strategy over the years. (It has been featured in Pennsylvania County News and Road and Bridges magazine among others.)  In addition, the county has won several awards for projects accomplished using this approach: two Road and Bridge Safety Awards, a National Timber Bridge Award, and a historic preservation award from the PHMC.

But the successful completion of Duke Street in 2017 is not just an ending; it’s the beginning of a whole new story for Dauphin County. With no more load-posted, structurally deficient bridges to address, their program transitions its focus from replacement to maintenance.  This has enabled the county to create a new program for funding infrastructure, using a portion of the Liquid Fuels funds it used to need for bridge replacements.

Savings Are Used to Encourage Economic Growth With a New Infrastructure Funding Program for Municipalities and the Private Sector

The Dauphin County Infrastructure Bank combines this Liquid Fuels funding with additional money from PennDOT’s Pennsylvania Infrastructure Bank to offer loans to county municipalities, businesses, and non-profits at unbeatably low interest rates (as low as 0.5%) for the construction of roads and bridges under their jurisdiction. Over the past three years, the county has turned a $1 million investment into 10 projects worth $11 million.

DCIB has funded 10 projects worth $11 million

Again, Dauphin County has its eye on the long view, using its funds to promote economic development throughout its municipalities.

As their example illustrates, the solution to funding our infrastructure is not a short story; it’s a novel with many chapters and a carefully planned arc. In fact, it’s a story that never ends – with the construction of Duke Street serving as the beginning of a new chapter: the Dauphin County Infrastructure Bank.  This program will, in turn, fund many new stories with new characters: municipalities and private developers rewriting the future of their communities one roadway or bridge at a time.

Are you ready to become the author of your  community’s future?


UPDATE: Dauphin County celebrated a ribbon-cutting for the completed bridge in the spring of 2017.  Learn more about the bridge in the video below


Do you want to make your community safer and encourage economic growth by investing in infrastructure? Download our guide:

Infrastructure Funding SolutionsCounty Infrastructure Banks:
Overcoming the Obstacles That Prevent Local Governments From Fixing Their Roads, Bridges, and Water Systems

It explains
• the benefits of a county infrastructure bank program
• how the program works (i.e. where the money comes from, how projects are selected, and how the projects are delivered)

Local governments want to improve their infrastructure but often don’t know where to come up with the money or even how to manage projects of that size and complexity. A county infrastructure bank program solves both of these problems, making infrastructure repair a feasible reality.

Learn how to fix your infrastructure

Brian Emberg, P.E.Brian Emberg, P.E., has more than 30 years of experience and has designed hundreds of infrastructure projects. His understanding of project management and keen sense of business practices has lead him to his current position as Senior Vice President and Chief Technical Officer at HRG. He is responsible for the management and oversight of the firm’s technical service groups, sales and marketing, client management, and the maintenance and execution of quality management plans.

What Do Flashing Yellow Signals Mean For Your Municipality?

A new flashing yellow signal has been installed in the Harrisburg area.

It’s the first in Pennsylvania, but flashing yellow signals have been implemented throughout the country.

Studies show they improve safety and reduce left-turn crashes. They can also keep traffic moving more efficiently.

Read on to learn more about their benefits and how much it would cost to convert a traffic signal to this new technology.

Flashing Yellow in Lower Allen Township


Have you seen the new flashing yellow arrow traffic signals?

PennDOT recently unveiled Pennsylvania’s first one in Lower Allen Township, Cumberland County at the intersection of Route 15 and Rossmoyne Road (shown above).

Over the next several months, PennDOT will monitor this intersection to see if the flashing yellow arrow helps to reduce accidents at this location. If it does, these signals will likely be deployed throughout the state.

How does a flashing yellow arrow work?

Historically, drivers making a left turn have had the right-of-way when the traffic light showed them a green arrow. There is no opposing traffic during a green arrow light, so drivers making a left turn don’t have to worry about other cars entering the intersection as they turn.

When a green circle is displayed, however, drivers can only make a left turn if there is no traffic coming from opposing directions. Drivers must first check for opposing traffic and then turn if the roadway is clear.

Under this new system, the flashing yellow arrow will replace the green circle. When a flashing yellow is displayed, drivers will be able to make a left turn, but they must first yield to any oncoming traffic.

Graphic excerpted from PennDOT’s Flashing Yellow Arrow Fact Sheet

Flashing Yellow Graphic from PennDOT



Why is the flashing yellow beneficial?

Drivers intuitively associate yellow with caution, so they are more likely to understand that they can only turn if there is no opposing traffic than they are with a solid green circle (which our brains associate with the direction to Go.)

In fact, a study by the Federal Highway Administration has shown them to reduce left-turn accidents by as much as 20%. This is one of the reasons the Route 15/Rossmoyne Road intersection was selected for the first flashing yellow signal in the state. More than 80% of the accidents at this intersection have involved left-turn movements (37 in the last four years).

In addition to improving safety, flashing yellow arrows can keep traffic moving more efficiently by providing more opportunities for left turns to occur. At intersections that previously went from green arrow to solid yellow, drivers will have an additional phase for left-turning movements. This, in turn, reduces delay and can eliminate complaints municipalities sometimes receive about frequently backed-up intersections.

Will municipalities be required to convert their traffic signals to this new flashing yellow arrow format?

No, there is no requirement for municipalities to implement flashing yellow signals at this time. Right now, PennDOT is testing the technology and seeing if it provides similar benefits in Pennsylvania to what is has provided elsewhere.

How much would it cost to convert municipal traffic signals to this new format?

In order to follow the new flashing yellow format, municipalities would only have to change their signal heads, not the mast arms. The new flashing yellow signal in Lower Allen Township cost $6,000 to install, but costs vary, depending on the existing signal operation and the number of directions that the arrow is being installed.

This number does not include engineering fees, which cover the cost of traffic counts, analysis, and a permit update, and can range between $4,000 – $6,000.

All told, a municipality can expect to pay between $8,000 – $14,000 for both construction and engineering fees associated with the implementation of a flashing yellow traffic signal.

For flashing yellow arrows to reduce accidents, as intended, drivers must understand what they mean. Therefore, PennDOT has undertaken an extensive public education effort. You can view a video that explains how the signals work and read a fact sheet about them on PennDOT’s website.

For any questions you might have about how a flashing yellow arrow might benefit your community or what implementation would entail, contact Darren Myer, HRG’s transportation manager for Western PA, or Eric Stump, our transportation manager for Central PA.

Darren Myer, P.E., PTOEMyer, has more than 16 years of experience in roadway and traffic engineering. He serves as traffic engineer for multiple townships and municipalities within Western Pennsylvania. His areas of expertise include traffic studies, signalization, roadway design, and the review of traffic impact studies and land development plans.


Eric Stump, P.E., PTOEEric Stump, has 14 years of experience and serves as the Traffic Team Leader for HRG’s Eastern Region. His experience includes preparing traffic impact studies for developments, reviewing traffic impact studies for municipalities, preparing traffic signal permit and construction plans, developing coordination programs for traffic signals in a system, and preparing PennDOT Highway Occupancy Permit applications.

GUIDE: How Infrastructure Banks Alleviate the Obstacles to Local Infrastructure Repair

Infrastructure Bank GuideLocal government officials are increasingly listing infrastructure repair and replacement as a top priority for their community.

Deteriorating roads, bridges and pipes present a safety risk and hamper economic development, but local government budgets are being besieged by rising costs and federal mandates. An innovative solution for infrastructure funding is needed to stretch public dollars further.

County Infrastructure Banks make projects more affordable for local governments and provide them with expert guidance through complicated design and construction processes.

Most municipalities struggle to find the money they need to repair or replace their infrastructure. Many also have little or no experience managing major infrastructure projects, and they can easily be overwhelmed by the complexities of the regulations and permit requirements that govern this work. This can lead to mistakes that delay the schedule or increase costs unnecessarily.

Dauphin County has found a solution to both of these problems with their award-winning Dauphin County Infrastructure Bank program.

The county created its own financing program, using a small annual surplus of $325,000 per year in Liquid Fuels money.  This small amount of money would not have been enough to fund even one single-span bridge replacement in today’s construction market, but their innovative infrastructure bank program has multiplied the impact of this seed money into more than 10 projects in just three years!

DCIB turns 325K into 10 projects worth $11M

The county uses this money to subsidize loans from other sources, so that their local governments and private sector recipients can receive the funding at unbeatably low interest rates.  It also manages the construction process to take advantage of economies of scale and ensure work is completed efficiently.  (Loan recipients are offered optional engineering and design support, as well.) As applicants repay their loans, the bank funds are replenished, and the cycle can begin again with new applicants, creating a self-renewing, permanent funding source.

This program has been featured on the Governing magazine website and has been honored by both the National Association of County Officials and the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development.

With an infrastructure bank program like Dauphin County’s, county officials have a renewable funding source that can:

  • Multiply the return on a small investment: completing several projects for less than the cost of one.
  • Provide both funding and project delivery support to municipalities that otherwise wouldn’t have the resources or staff to complete complex infrastructure improvements.
  • Make infrastructure more affordable by offering loans with unbeatably low interest rates to local municipalities and private firms.
  • Promote economic growth.
  • Target money to long-term, strategic planning goals for the region.


Learn how an infrastructure bank can make infrastructure repair easier and more affordable. Download our guide:

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Successfully Applying for Act 89 Municipal Transportation Grants

This January, Pennsylvania is celebrating the second anniversary of Act 89’s implementation. Thanks to this innovative legislation, local governments today receive more liquid fuels money than they would have under the previous system and have access to several new grant programs.  Still, many local officials are not sure how to access these additional funds or maximize their use for the greatest possible benefit.  HRG has some tips to help municipalities make the most of act 89 transportation funding.

What money is available to local governments through Act 89?

Municipalities should already have seen an increase in their liquid fuels disbursements and will continue to receive additional funding for the next several years as the Act 89 funding continues to ramp up until fully funded in 2018. By 2018, municipalities will see an increase in Liquid Fuels Tax Distributions of approximately 70% over 2013 levels. In addition to the liquid fuels funding, the legislation offers several other options for additional transportation funding:

  • Green Light Go grants
  • Multi-Modal Fund grants
  • Low Volume Roads and Dirt and Gravel Road Funding Increases

Signalization Upgrade for the City of Harrisburg

Green Light Go Grants
Green Light Go grants are competitive grants available for traffic signal improvements designed to enhance safety, reduce congestion, and improve transportation efficiency.  Municipalities can apply for these funds on a wide variety of projects, including:

  • The study and removal of unwanted signals
  • Traffic signal retiming
  • LED replacement
  • Asset management of a traffic signal system
  • Real-time monitoring of traffic signal operations
  • Traffic signal maintenance
  • Innovative technologies (like adapative signals)
  • Communications
  • Connections back to the Traffic Management Center
  • Detection upgrades
  • Controller upgrades
  • Modernization upgrades
  • ITS applications
  • Development of detour, special event, and operations plans.

Municipalities must be able to provide a 20% local match to be eligible for the funding.

Steelton Streetscape

Multi-Modal Fund Grants
The PennDOT and Commonwealth Financing Authority Multi-Modal Grant Programs were designed to support projects that promote alternative modes of transportation (like bike and pedestrian trails, rail, aviation, and transit) as well as improvements to smaller, local roadways that might not otherwise receive funding (since federal funding prioritizes highway improvements over other modes of transportation).  This competitive grant program funds projects such as:

  • Bus stops
  • Park and ride facilities
  • Sidewalks and crosswalks
  • Bicycle lanes
  • Local roads and bridges, including
    • Intersection reconfiguration
    • New lane construction
    • New roadway construction
  • Streetscapes
  • Lighting
  • Pedestrian safety enhancements
  • Signage and pavement marking

Again, municipalities must have at least a 30% local funding match in order to be considered for the grant. (More information on applying for Multi-Modal Fund grants is available in this article.)

Funding Increases for the Low Volume Roads/Dirt and Gravel Road Program
In addition to these new grant programs, Act 89 provides increased funding for the existing Dirt and Gravel/Low-Volume Road Program.  Grant moneys have increased from $8 million per year to $28 million per year under Act 89.  This money is distributed by local county conservation districts for the maintenance of low-volume dirt and gravel roadways.

How do local governments position themselves for Act 89 funding?

All of the programs listed above are competitive grant programs. In order to be selected for an award, grant applications must show the importance of the project to the community and the planning behind the project. This is why communities with a transportation asset management program have a competitive edge in these competitions.

A good asset management program:

  • collects data about the condition of a municipality’s roadways, bridges, traffic signs and signals;
  • identifies the appropriate type and timing of maintenance, restoration, or replacement measures; and
  • ranks those needs based on the condition of the infrastructure and its function in the community. (i.e. How disruptive would the impact be if this infrastructure failed?)

When the asset management plan is augmented with planning-level cost estimates, the result is an excellent tool that provides a forward-looking capital improvement program.

In essence, a good asset management and capital improvement plan helps a municipality identify what improvements are most needed in its transportation network and what resources will be needed to complete those improvements. It also helps them proactively plan for the maintenance of those improvements over the long-term.

This is important to PennDOT because it is making an investment in the municipality with these grants, and it wants to be sure that investment will provide a return. Officials do not want to allocate money toward a project that will run into a financial roadblock or permitting issue and eventually be tabled. They want ample information to demonstrate that the municipality has a plan for getting the project designed and built: the kind of information one acquires from an asset management and capital improvement plan.

Essentially, in order to obtain Act 89 grants, a municipality has to be able to:

  • Demonstrate they can provide the matching funds to get a project completed.
  • Provide reasons why the project is important to the transportation network on a local municipal (and even better: regional) level.
  • Submit plans and cost estimates that show exactly what will be needed to get the project through construction.
  • Prove that they will be able to maintain the project after it is built.

One of the best way to develop this information is to establish an asset management and capital improvement program.

Even if a municipality is not looking to seek grant funds, an asset management and capital improvement plan still makes sense because it will help them identify the best use for the increased liquid fuels funds they will be receiving automatically in order to ensure those dollars provide the maximum return on investment for their community.

(See HRG’s related articles on transportation asset management: Better Roads for Less Money with Asset Management and Positioning Yourself for Grant Funding with an Asset Management/Capital Improvement Plan.)

Over the past two years, Act 89 has succeeded in providing new revenue for transportation projects across Pennsylvania and has provided funding for alternative modes of transportation (such as bike and pedestrian path projects, more walkable communities, rail and transit improvements, etc.) as well as smaller (even rural, low-volume) roadway improvements that typically get ignored by federal funding initiatives. It has created new grant sources and enhanced efficiencies by bundling similar projects together.

As a result, hundreds of projects that never would’ve seen the light of day have become a reality, reducing congestion and improving the safety of our drivers while providing new economic opportunity. (Click here to see a map of projects completed as a result of the increased transportation funding provided by Act 89.)

Thanks to increased transportation funding in Pennsylvania, municipalities will receive increased liquid fuels fund distributions and are eligible to apply for new grant opportunities.

In order to make the most of these opportunities, municipalities should work with an engineer to implement an asset management and capital improvement program that helps them identify projects for grant opportunities and provide the level of detail needed for a successful grant application. Ideally, a municipality will want to work with an engineering firm that has ample expertise in transportation design as well as ample financial planning and grant administration experience.

Even those municipalities who choose not to seek Act 89 grant funding can use an asset management and capital improvement program to ensure they make the wisest use of their increased liquid fuels disbursements.

For more information on how your municipality can position itself for Act 89 transportation funds and/or implement an asset management and capital improvement program, please contact Brian Emberg, P.E., Senior Vice President and Director of Transportation Services.


Transportation Funding for Municipalities: Act 89 Multi-Modal Grants

Steelton Stretscape

In two previous articles, HRG examined how municipalities can stop speeding on local streets with traffic calming programs (See: Stop Speeding in Your Neighborhood and Reduce Speeding with Traffic Control Techniques). For many communities, lack of transportation funding may be an obstacle to getting the necessary projects built, so we’d like to highlight one funding program to help make traffic calming improvements more affordable: PennDOT’s Multi-Modal Fund Program.

What is PennDOT’s Multi-Modal Fund Grant Program?

Under the most recent authorization, federal transportation funding has placed a higher priority on improving major highways, leaving many local roads and alternative modes of transportation (like biking or transit) under-funded.  To remedy this, Pennsylvania used its Act 89 funds to create the Multi-Modal Grant Program. Under this program, money is specifically earmarked for improving transportation and access via alternative modes such as:

  • Biking and pedestrian facilities
  • Ports
  • Rail
  • Aviation
  • Transit

But Multi-Modal funds can also be used for a wide variety of local roadway and intersection improvements, as well, including paving, traffic signalization, and realignments, etc.

As PennDOT Secretary Leslie S. Richards said in a recent press release for the program, the Multi-Modal Fund “allows [PennDOT] to assist communities with needed transportation improvements that otherwise may not move forward.”

What types of projects are eligible for this transportation funding?

PennDOT lists many types of projects as eligible for Multi-Modal grants:

  • Bus stops
  • Park and ride facilities
  • Sidewalks and crosswalks
  • Bicycle lanes
  • Local roads and bridges
  • Streetscapes
  • Lighting
  • Pedestrian safety enhancements
  • Signage

Looking at the grant recipients in the previous two application cycles, we can see a wide variety of projects have been selected for grants, including:

  • Intersection reconfiguration
  • Construction of additional lanes
  • Equipment purchases for a pavement marking program
  • New roadway construction
  • Biking and pedestrian trail construction and improvement
  • Noise mitigation along railroad tracks
  • Parking structure improvements
  • New school zone signage and pedestrian tunnel construction near a public high school

With an emphasis on alternative transportation modes such as biking and walking, Multi-Modal Funds have been a great fit for communities implementing improvements geared toward traffic calming and enhanced pedestrian safety.

In the last grant cycle, PennDOT awarded more than $1 million for a project in Factoryville and La Plume, Lackawanna County, that includes improvements to pedestrian safety, traffic calming, and the streetscape.  They also provided almost $500,000 to Homer City Borough, Indiana County, for new ADA-compliant sidewalks and curb ramps, stamped concrete crosswalks, and similar improvements.  In addition, they provided more than $100,000 to Northampton Township, Bucks County, for decorative imprint asphalt crosswalks, curb ramps, and sidewalk improvements. 

What criteria is used to select grant recipients?

PennDOT lists the following as its selection criteria for awarding Multi-Modal Grants:

  • The project area’s economic conditions.
  • Consistency with planning on a local, regional, and statewide level.
  • “Benefits to safety, mobility, economic competitiveness, and transportation system integration.” (Being able to specifically cite the number and quality of jobs the project would create or preserve gives a project greater consideration.)
  • The “technical and financial feasibility of the project.”

(i.e. Does the application show the municipality has a clear plan for getting the project built [including land acquisition and permitting issues] and providing its required portion of the financing?

Municipalities that can provide more than 30% of the project’s financing are given preference, based on the degree to which they can provide additional matching funds.)

  • The regional benefits of a project.
  • “Project readiness.”
  • “Energy efficiency.”
  • “Operational sustainability over the long term.”
  • “Multi-modal nature of the project.”

Municipalities would be wise to work with a consulting engineer who has knowledge of the program and can carefully craft the application to meet these selection criteria.  That being said, the broader the reach a project has (regional or statewide benefits versus local), the more it will improve the economy, and the more prepared a municipality is to complete it – technically and financially – the better chance a project has of receiving funds. 

How much money is awarded?

Grant amounts vary based on the size of the project, but, according to PennDOT, they would not normally exceed $3 million for any one project. (At least one project in the City of Harrisburg did in the 2014 cycle, however, topping out at $3, 191,000.)

Over the past several grant cycles, awards have been as small as $11,000 with a few in the $2-3 million range.

Grant recipients must provide a local match equal to at least 30% of the total project cost.  These local funds can come from Liquid Fuels tax and Act 13 impact fees if the project is an eligible use of those funds. 

How do you apply?

A municipality interested in applying for a Multi-Modal Program Grant should speak with an engineer who knows the program well.  Crafting a successful grant application starts in the earliest phases of project planning and design.  In addition to the application form, municipalities must submit detailed cost estimates prepared by an engineer; a color-coded map of the project area; a list of all local, state, and federal permits the project will require; and a variety of other documents related to their finances.

The PennDOT Multi-Modal Fund grant program is a great option for communities looking to reduce speeding and enhance pedestrian safety through traffic calming techniques like raised crosswalks, curb cuts, etc.  Several communities around the state have, in fact, already been awarded thousands of dollars for these types of projects.  With a focus on enhancing transportation access beyond our state highways, this fund can be useful for many other projects, too, such as local road and bridge improvements, widening, and realignment as well as pavement rehabilitation programs.

If you would like more information on how Multi-Modal grants could benefit your municipality, contact Brian Emberg, P.E., our Senior Vice President and Director of Transportation Services.


Reduce Speeding with Speed Humps and Other Traffic Control Techniques

Many municipalities have a speeding problem in their neighborhood and wish to address complaints from their residents about safety concerns that result from excessive speed on quiet streets. While those residents often think a stop sign or reduced speed limit will correct the issue, studies indicate that unnecessary stop signs can actually increase speeds on local roads, and speed limits that are reduced below engineering standards are typically ignored.

In a previous post, we explained that the best way to reduce excessive speeding in a neighborhood is to combine education of the community with increased enforcement by police and the construction of engineering techniques that force drivers to slow down. There are many different traffic calming techniques, ranging from planting trees to constructing geometric roadway improvements.  In this article, we describe some common techniques, their cost, and their effectiveness.

Photo by pml2008.  Used under a Creative Commons license.
Street Trees

Street Trees

For a much lower cost than many of the other techniques discussed here, street trees have proven speed and accident reduction power. They also increase the aesthetic value of a neighborhood, reduce pollution, and maintain cooler temperatures, making them a very cost-effective improvement to a community.

Street trees are typically placed at 15-30 foot intervals and must be carefully located to ensure they provide clear sight lines and do not block street lights or utilities.   When designed properly, street trees can reduce speeds between 3 to 15 miles per hour, according to studies cited by urban designer Dan Burden. They also reduce the number of crashes (between 5-20 percent in one study conducted in Toronto).

Though the exact reason for this speed and accident reduction is not known for certain, several theories exist.  Some say the trees act as a visual wall that makes drivers more aware of a possible pedestrian presence.  Others point to the calming effect trees have on us psychologically, suggesting that a calmer mood causes drivers to slow down.

Average cost: Since tree species vary by region, this cost can also vary widely.  However, the average planting cost is between $250 to $650.

Photo by Robert Drudl. Used under a Creative Commons license.
Traffic Calming - speed hump

Speed Humps

The most commonly used of the traffic calming measures, speed humps are rounded, raised areas of pavement that are placed every 300-600 feet on local roads. They typically include pavement markings and warning signage on the approaches, so that drivers are aware of their presence.

Speed humps can vary in height between 3 and 4 inches. Studies indicate that, if implemented correctly, these humps will cause drivers to reduce their speed anywhere between 4 to 23 miles per hour.

While well-designed speed humps are effective at reducing speeds on local roads, they should not be used on major collectors, bus routes or primary emergency response routes because they slow down emergency response vehicles (up to 3-5 seconds per hump for fire trucks and up to 10 seconds per hump for ambulances carrying patients).

Average cost: According to published information, the cost of speed humps can range from $1,000 to $6,900, and the average is approximately $2,500.

Photo by Andrew Bossi. Used under a Creative Commons license.
Traffic Calming - speed table

Speed Table (a.k.a. flat-top speed humps)

A speed table is similar to speed humps, but the humps are longer: They are typically designed so that the entire wheelbase of a vehicle can rest on top. Speed tables have a flat section on top and ramps on either side, and textured materials such as brick may be used on the flat section.

They do not produce as jarring a ride as speed humps, so they are preferred by emergency responders; however, drivers typically do not reduce their speed as much as they would with humps, as a result.

When used as raised crosswalks, speed tables increase the likelihood that drivers yield to pedestrians, so they are a good choice for increasing pedestrian safety in a neighborhood.

Average cost: According to published information, the cost of speed tables can range from $1,000 to $6,900, and the average is approximately $2,500.

 Photo by Robert Drdul. Used here under Creative Commons license.
Traffic Calming - roundabout


Many people often think of traffic circles and roundabouts as being interchangeable, but they are not. Traffic circles are often more confusing and simply involve building a raised circular island in an intersection. A modern roundabout will also typically include a raised circular island, but it will include flared approaches. Flared approaches align the vehicle to the right of the center island so that merging of traffic is accomplished more easily, and it eliminates confusion. In addition, splitter islands with yield signs are typically included on each leg approaching the intersection, which helps drivers perceive a change in the roadway is coming and proceed with caution.

Roundabouts can reduce speeds between 15 to 25 miles per hour within the roundabout, and they are very effective at reducing crash frequency in residential neighborhoods (as much as 77 percent in one study) as well as crash severity.

Though new to Pennsylvania, they have been used safely and effectively throughout the U.S. in California, Florida, Maryland, and Washington. Pennsylvania has more than 20 roundabouts throughout the state, and another 40 are currently proposed. Despite opposition from some residents who aren’t familiar with the traffic pattern, roundabouts have been proven to be safer than traditional intersection designs, and they reduce emissions versus intersections with traffic lights and stop signs. They also eliminate the energy consumption associated with operating traffic signals. As a result, federal and state governments are encouraging engineers to use roundabouts wherever possible.

Due to their high cost, roundabouts are typically only considered when intersection improvements are already necessary, as opposed to being used merely as a device to slow traffic.

Average cost: Costs vary greatly, but typically range between $350,000 to $500,000.

 Photo by Robert Drdul. Used here under Creative Commons license.
Traffic Calming - center median

Center Island Narrowing

Sometimes called mid-block medians, these islands are located along the center line of a street, thereby narrowing the lanes of travel and causing drivers to slow down slightly.   The islands may help to beautify the area with landscaping and can increase the safety of pedestrians by allowing them to cross one direction of traffic at a time (waiting in the island until the other direction is clear).

Emergency responders typically prefer these islands to other traffic calming devices, but they may reduce parking and driveway access. In addition, bicyclists do not like having to share a narrowed roadway with motorists.

Average cost: Costs range between $5,000 – $15,000.


Steelton Streetscape


Bulbouts are curb extensions that can occur mid-block or at the intersections. They narrow the roadway, forcing drivers to slow down as much as 4 percent in some studies.

While emergency responders typically prefer these to other traffic calming devices like speed tables and speed humps, bicyclists do not like sharing a narrowed roadway with motorists. (However, bulbouts can be designed to include an island that allows bike riders to continue along the original curb line.)

Pedestrians also find bulbouts useful as they can be used to decrease intersection width, providing a shorter and safer crossing for people at the intersections.  This, in turn, reduces pedestrian crossing times.

But bulbouts must be carefully designed to ensure adequate drainage, and delineators should be used to make them visible to snow plows.

Average cost: Bulbout costs vary greatly but generally range between $15,000 to $25,000.

 Photo by Daniel Mayer. Used under a Creative Commons license.
Traffic Calming - raised intersection

Raised intersections

Raised intersections typically raise the pavement to sidewalk level over the entire intersection using sloped ramps onto a flat, often textured section in the middle, and then ramping back down to roadway height after the intersection.

They are very pedestrian-friendly and reduce intersection speed significantly, but the mid-block speed reduction is less than 10 percent. In addition, they must be carefully designed to ensure proper drainage.

Average cost: Raised intersections range in cost between $25,000 to $70,000.

Most of these traffic calming devices can be used in combination with each other, and, in fact, traffic calming devices should be planned and executed throughout a neighborhood, not on isolated streets. (If the devices are only used on one or two streets, drivers typically switch to alternate routes in order to avoid them, thereby shifting the speeding problem to a new location instead of eliminating it.)

Seeking the assistance of an experienced traffic engineer is crucial to the success of a traffic calming program because many factors must be considered in applying these techniques to ensure they do not cause unintended safety hazards, hamper emergency response, or create drainage problems.

Though the cost to implement these techniques may seem high, funding is available to help municipalities. In another post, we discuss how Act 89 Multi-Modal grants can be used to fund traffic calming projects like these.

For more information about implementing a traffic calming program in your community, contact Brian Emberg, P.E., our Senior Vice President and Director of Transportation Services.

Better Roads for Less Money with Asset Management

Freshcorn Road
Municipal managers are under pressure every day to deliver more services in spite of shrinking budgets. With only so much money available, they must make tough choices about what investments to make in their community. Though they’ve heard the benefits of asset management many times in recent years, they still don’t feel they have the money to invest in such programs – not when that money could be spent on the construction or repair of badly needed roadways, bridges, and pipes.

Many communities see asset management programs as an additional expense, but the truth is: asset management saves you more money than it costs.

See also: Position Yourself for Funding With Asset Management & Capital Improvement Planning

Imagine a tale of two cities: both celebrating the ribbon-cutting on a brand new roadway and each taking a very different approach to caring for it.

City #1 has no asset management or capital improvement planning program. It does not assess the condition of its roadways and plan long-term investments in their upkeep. It makes repairs when the need becomes obvious.

City #1 will make moderate investments in maintenance over the next 20 years, but the condition of the roadway will steadily decline. Ten years after the ribbon-cutting celebration, the roadway condition will be fair at best. Fifteen years after, the residents who heralded its construction will be grumbling about its potholes and cracks. Twenty years after, the condition of the road will be so poor that City #1 will need to completely replace the roadway at a cost of $1.2 million per lane mile.

City #2, on the other hand, has a robust asset management and capital improvement planning program. It routinely inspects the condition of its roadways and takes proactive action to keep those roadways in top form. With investments every five years of approximately $100,000 to resurface the pavement, City #2 maintains its roadway in good condition throughout the next two decades, keeping traffic flowing smoothly, encouraging growth and development, and making residents and local businesses happy. The condition of the roadway never declines to a state where travelers complain.

Roadway Conditions Over Time Graph

Over the same 20-year-period, the residents of City #2 will ultimately have paid less money ($400,000) than City #1 ($1.2 million) but will have enjoyed better roadway conditions over the long-term.

Still think you can’t afford to invest in asset management and capital improvement planning? As these two cities show, you can’t afford not to.

For more information about how asset management and capital improvement planning can benefit your community, contact Brian Emberg, P.E., our Senior Vice President and Director of Transportation Services.

Stop Speeding in Your Neighborhood

A version of this article was printed in the September 2017 issue of Pennsylvania Borough News magazine.

stop speeding

A comprehensive traffic calming program that includes community education and involvement, enhanced enforcement, and engineering control is the most effective way to stop speeders and make your neighborhood safe for pedestrians.

Municipal officials frequently get calls from their residents about speeding on local streets.  People are worried that they or their children might get hit by a car, or a dangerous vehicle collision could occur.  These are valid concerns that need to be addressed.  Unfortunately, many residents think stop signs are the way to fix the problem, and they pressure their officials to post them on their street.

But stop signs do not reduce vehicle speeds.  They are meant to indicate who has the right-of-way when traffic is coming from different directions, and state DOTs require municipalities to conduct a stop sign warrant analysis to make sure the intersection meets the conditions necessary to require a complete stop. If a municipality installs a stop sign where it is not warranted, it can present liability concerns, and studies indicate that stop signs are not effective for reducing speed anyway.

Drivers respond more to roadway conditions than signage – especially if they feel that signage is in conflict with those conditions.  In study after study, drivers who come to a stop-controlled intersection with no other traffic in the area frequently roll through the sign, slowing down for a few seconds rather than coming to a complete stop.  Then they often speed up more aggressively after moving through the intersection to make up for lost time.

A study conducted in Michigan by Richard Beaubien and published by the Institute of Transportation Engineers showed that placing stop signs along a roadway increased driver speeds, rather than decreasing them, and studies in Boulder, Colorado, and California have had similar results.

Lowering the speed limit below typical roadway safety standards is also ineffective because most drivers travel at a speed they deem typical for the roadway conditions, rather than constantly checking their speedometer against speed limit signs.

So what can you do to stop speeding on your local roads?

Institute a neighborhood traffic calming program that emphasizes community involvement and combines education and enforcement with engineering techniques such as speed humps.

Educate your residents with a community awareness campaign
Studies and enforcement data history indicate that the majority of speeding on local roads is done by drivers who live in those neighborhoods, so a community education campaign that includes articles in the municipal newsletter or posters at community gathering places (such as schools, libraries, and recreation centers) can be very effective at increasing awareness and reducing speeds.  Articles in the local newspaper or community magazine can also be helpful if the problem is significant enough to warrant it, and yard signs reminding people to slow down reinforce the point.

Back it up with enhanced enforcement
When educating the public about a speeding problem in your neighborhood, it’s important to tell them why you want to reduce speeds (including information on any crashes that may have occurred or the compromised safety of pedestrians).  It’s also important to connect your education effort with enhanced enforcement by police and let people know that tickets will be issued.  Education by itself will not deter speeders for long; the threat of fines is necessary to reduce speeding over the long haul.

Control speed with engineering devices (like speed humps), as needed
While education and enforcement can help reduce excessive speed in most situations, sometimes drivers need an extra nudge or reminder to slow down.  A traffic engineer can help you install measures that will encourage or even force drivers to slow down such as speed humps, rumble strips, traffic islands, road narrowing, and pavement markings.  (In another article in this series, we describe each of these measures, their cost, and their effectiveness.)

A comprehensive traffic calming program like this that combines education, enforcement, and engineering design can be very successful at eliminating speeding on local roads, but governing requires the consent of the governed.  Therefore, the effectiveness of a traffic calming program depends most of all on how invested the community is in making it work.  This makes community involvement from the earliest stages very important.

Many communities find it helpful to create a committee of residents to address traffic concerns in the neighborhood.  The committee can provide information on speeding and other traffic issues and work with the municipal officials, their retained engineer, and police to devise a strategy to address them.  All final decisions are made by municipal officials, but the committee plays a significant role in advising them and helping to determine a solution.

Working as a team, municipal officials, law enforcement, and residents can make roadways safer for the entire community.


For more information on traffic calming programs, read our other articles:

Traffic Calming - speed humpSpeed Humps and Other Traffic Control Techniques

There are many different traffic calming techniques, ranging from planting trees to constructing geometric roadway improvements.  Read a description of the most common techniques, their cost, and their effectiveness.



Steelton Streetscape

Funding: Act 89 Multi-Modal Grants

For many communities considering a traffic calming program, lack of funding may be an obstacle to getting the necessary projects built.  One funding program that can help make traffic calming improvements more affordable is PennDOT’s Multi-Modal Fund. Learn more about how to apply for these grants here.



Contact Brian Emberg, P.E., to discuss implementing a traffic calming program in your community.