EL PASO, Texas (KFOX14) — There are eyes on the roads every time you stop at a traffic light. There are also eyes on the roads when traffic is at a crawl on Interstate 10.
There is a place in east El Paso where people control 98 percent of the lights at 670 intersections in El Paso.
The Traffic Management Center was started in the old city hall back in the early '90s as an effort to reduce pollution caused by idling vehicles during traffic tie-ups.
Keith Bennett is the deputy director for the El Paso Streets and Maintenance Department.
He oversees the TMC.
“So if we can mitigate the amount of congestion caused by accidents or special events and so forth there, we can improve the quality of air for our citizens,” Bennett said.
There are two people at a time at the TMC , and they have the capability to turn the lights from red to green with the push of a button.
“We can communicate with the signals and adjust the timing as we see necessary,” Bennett said.
Those cameras above the traffic lights are not recording. Bennett said people often ask for recordings off the cameras, especially during traffic accidents. The cameras have sensors that are meant to detect vehicles at stop lights.
The team can see those busy intersections when I-10 is gridlocked.
Drivers may not know the team is doing its best to make the commute along the alternate routes more efficient, but members of the team do know what it’s like to be stuck in traffic and are trying to improve congestion.
“It’s a pain in the neck, that’s for sure. It’s an everyday thing,” said driver Jorge Torres.
“It’s like they don’t even plan for people having accidents or having any traffic,” Dean Slade said.
But there is a plan, and it’s just when those accidents happen that the TMC team gets to work.
"Once we're alerted, we see it ourselves on camera or we get an alert from TXDOT that lanes are being closed or are diverting traffic of the freeway,” Bennett said.
The team watches the big corridors people use as alternate routes, like Mesa Street, and adjusts the timing of the lights to fix traffic tie-ups.
When people say they often get stuck at a red light, it may be because of where they are stopped.
Once the wheels block the crosswalks, the sensors think the car has left, and that’s how lights stay red longer.
Bennett said lights stay red an average of a minute and a half.
Those who work at the center are also planning ahead for big events like Monster Truck Jam, concerts or graduations that happen at UTEP. They know these events create delays on Mesa, and they make plans for the lights so traffic can flow smoother.
The 311 calls made for faulty lights also go to the TMC.
"At times, we may have to go out and do another traffic count to update our information to see if the flow has changed if there are more vehicles moving through the area,” Bennett said.
The center is operational Monday through Friday, but when traffic events happen on the weekends, there are still eyes on the lights.
Someone from the TMC team can actually telecommute from home via a computer and change the timing of the lights.
In March 2017, the El Paso Traffic Management Center relocation won a Gold Medal in its category in building/technology systems from the American Council of Engineering Companies Texas Chapter.