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Traffic Light Malfunctions

American Government Special Collections Reference Desk

Traffic Light Malfunctions

Gus Philpott
Woodstock Advocate
April 23, 2009


What do you do when you see a traffic light that is malfunctioning? Do you even notice that it is not working correctly?

Recently the traffic light on Route 47 at McHenry Avenue (Route 120) in Woodstock was giving a long left-turn arrow for northbound traffic, even when there were no cars in the left-turn lane. Something like this is easy to spot when you are northbound in the through lane. But it's especially annoying when you are southbound. You see northbound traffic starting forward, but you don't get a green then you might wonder why northbound traffic got a green and you have to just sit there.

Left-turn lanes have a "loop" that alerts the signal box that a car is in the left-turn lane. A design function is that, when the loop breaks, then the left-turn arrow will come on for every cycle, as if a car is in the left-turn lane. This will help the driver in the lane with the broken loop, so he doesn't have to sit there until the cows come home.

I reported the problem to the IDOT Communications Center, where an operator told me she had to have the Woodstock PD check it out. Upon confirmation from Woodstock PD, IDOT would dispatch a repair crew. When the signal was still malfunctioning a week later, I followed up. An IDOT supervisor looked into it and had the problem fixed very promptly.

I also received a nice note from IDOT, explaining that the repairs should not have taken so long. Usually, IDOT can send a contractor to fix a traffic signal within a day or two, depending on the urgency of the problem. Certainly, there was no emergency to this. It just belonged in the normal schedule for repairs.

If you see a problem with a traffic signal on a state road, report it to your local police department and ask it to notify IDOT.

I'd like to think that patrol officers (or fire/rescue or paramedics or tow truck drivers) all notice such malfunctions and report them for repairs. Using email is the best method, because it puts it in writing and provides an easy follow-up method, if prompt repairs aren't made. For Woodstock, send such requests to policedept@woodstockil.gov



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