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Hot drivers get quicker commute in Henderson

Being hot can get you places a little faster in Henderson.

A thermal imaging system, recently installed at four intersections, can control traffic signals by detecting heat emitted from vehicles, pedestrians and bicyclists waiting for a green light. The searing desert heat, monsoonlike rains and dark nights won’t affect the nifty detector’s ability to work.

Stoplights at 162 other intersections soon will be equipped with thermal imaging as a way to improve signal timing, reduce idling and increase traffic flows in Henderson, city spokeswoman Kim Becker said.

The technology is new for Southern Nevada drivers, but it was unclear when city officials plan to complete the $4.19 million project, funded by developer contributions that pay for traffic improvements.

Even though people and vehicles aren’t easily identifiable with thermal detection devices, Becker said motorists can rest assured the images will not be recorded.

“In many ways, it is better than our current video imaging system,” Becker said. “Besides detection, it will enable us to conduct counts and measure the effectiveness of our traffic signal timing.”

The TrafiSense thermal imaging sensors were developed about six years ago by FLIR Systems, a Wilsonville, Oregon, company specializing in advanced detection technology.

“Thermal imaging works better because it detects heat, not light, to optimize performance,” said Dan Dietrich, FLIR’s director in North America.

“This will eliminate problems with sun glare, shadows and headlights that interfere with optical-based detection systems. And it’s better than in-ground invective loop detectors because the system has visual capability that won’t get damaged during road work.”

If you want to see whether the new thermal imaging signal-detection system works, check out the completed intersections at Warm Springs and Eastgate roads; Stephanie Street and Patrick Lane; Paseo Verde Parkway and Gibson Road; and the recently completed bridge connecting Stufflebeam Avenue and Stephanie Street.

Carpool confusion

Most drivers here know that motorists with two or more occupants can slide into the high-occupancy lanes on U.S. Highway 95, sharing the space with motorcycles, buses and emergency response vehicles from 6 to 10 a.m. and 2 to 7 p.m. weekdays.

But Timothy from Las Vegas wanted to know why those times aren’t clearly posted, and how the Nevada Department of Transportation determined when the HOV lanes should be in effect.

The carpool lane times were determined by demand. Those are simply the heaviest travel times when commuters are on the highway, DOT spokesman Tony Illia said.

For now, the time restrictions are placed on alternating freeway signs between Ann Road and the Spaghetti Bowl, because of limited space for the lengthy messages, Illia said.

“Displaying effective carpool hours and exempted vehicles is overly long, requiring impractically sized panel signs,” Illia said.

But that soon will change, Timothy. By September, a dozen overhead, automated signs measuring 12.5 feet tall and 77 feet wide will flash messages to motorists, including the hours that carpool lanes are in effect, Illia said.

Things will change dramatically with the $1 billion Project Neon, which will redesign and add traffic lanes to the Spaghetti Bowl, the state’s busiest highway interchange.

Plans call for converting two of the express lanes on Interstate 15 into one general-purpose lane and one carpool lane, creating 22 consecutive miles of HOV lanes between I-15 and Highway 95, Illia said. On top of that, construction begins in March on an 81-foot-tall HOV flyover lane spanning 2,606 feet will connect the I-15 and Highway 95.

When the massive project is completed by July 2019, the Las Vegas Valley’s rules for carpool lanes will go into effect 24 hours a day, every day, Illia said.

At least drivers have the next three years to get used to that idea.

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