UDOT celebrates 100th anniversary of traffic signal

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UDOT unveiled a replica of the first traffic signal on Thursday in commemoration of 100 years since the first traffic light was installed in downtown Salt Lake City and continuing traffic innovation in Utah.

The traffic light was invented by Utahn Lester Wire and placed in Salt Lake City in 1912, sparking a long tradition of traffic innovation in Utah that continues to this day with accelerated bridge construction and continuous flow intersections.

The first signal was created out of a converted bird house with incandescent light bulbs dipped in paint similar to the commemorative replica. The Guinness Book of World Records recognizes the invention as the first traffic light.

Street lights adorn the podium at the UDOT 100th anniversary of the first street light in Utah. Photo by Haley Bissegger

John Njord, UDOT director, spoke about the departments goal to continue in the heritage of innovation.

“While we celebrate and honor Lester Wire and his invention of 100 years ago today, we at the Department of Transportation are taking his lead and continuing to find innovative ways to deliver our programs and products,” Njord said. “We are striving to become the world leader in trasportaiton innovation.”

The event took place in the Traffic Operations Center in Salt Lake, one of the first in its kind, where the department can remotely control intersections to improve traffic flow.

Traveler Information Manager Lisa Miller said, “Our executive director is very focused on using innovation to move traffic more efficiently and safely. In addition to the traffic operations center, we use strategic intersections, signal timing plans and we’re involved in a lot of special event management in order to reduce the impact and travel delays.”

Utah currently has the most continuous flow intersections in the nation including the recent redesign of the intersection at University Parkway and Sandhill Road in Orem.

“With those we are able to bring the left turn lane across on the other side of the road in advance to eliminate the need to serve the left turn lane at the intersection,” Mark Taylor, traffic signal operations engineer, said. “That allows us to give more green-time to the mainway,”

Following in Wire’s footsteps of innovation, UDOT continues to rethink road construction and design to improve the driving experience for Utahns.

“When we see a problem we try to employ technologies that we know about to solve the problem, but sometimes we don’t know how to solve it so we have to create a solution,” Njord said.

Speaking of the accelerated bridge construction Utah has helped innovate, Njord said, “We recognized that when we roll out barrels and affect people’s lives for months at a time, nobody likes that. That’s why we came back and said, ‘why don’t we build the bridge over there and then overnight move it here and people will go to bed and the next morning its there.'”

Njord also discussed the governor’s recent challenge to the I-15 Core Project to finish before Thanksgiving. Part of UDOT’s goal of innovation is limiting the time it takes to complete projects in order to minimize inconvenience for citizens. The project was initially slated to finish this December, but Gov. Gary Herbert has put pressure on them to finish almost a month earlier.

“They’re working really hard to accomplish that goal and I have confidence that they will be successful,” Njord said. “In fact, I think they’ll beat Thanksgiving.”

Following the conclusion of the I-15 Core project, UDOT will be adding a lane in each direction from Spanish Fork to Payson and from Lehi to Salt Lake County.

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