Orleans Officials Asked To Address Complaints Over Traffic Lights

By: Ryan Bray

Topics: Town Meeting , Police, Fire And Harbormaster News , Orleans news

Flashing yellow traffic signals outside the entrance to the Orleans Fire Department on Eldredge Park Way have become a source of irritation for some residents. A petition article is set to go before special town meeting voters next month seeking that the system be altered to only operate when firefighters are called to respond to an emergency. FILE PHOTO

ORLEANS – Residents voted four years ago to partially fund the installation of a traffic signal system outside the fire department headquarters. Now a petition article has been drafted to get the town to change it.

The article included as part of the special town meeting warrant for May 9 asks the town to “alter” the system on Eldredge Park Way so that it is not functional at all times.

This article will instruct the town of Orleans DPW to alter the traffic signal from operating at all times, to operate only when signaled by an emergency vehicle,” according to language in the article’s summary.

It will cost the town an additional $20,000 to reprogram the light system and outfit it with new equipment, Town Administrator John Kelly told the select board April 6. That money has not been budgeted for the coming fiscal year, he said.

Reached by phone after the meeting, Orleans Fire Chief Geof Deering said that original plans for the fire station, which opened in 1987, called for the installation of a traffic light. But it wasn’t until 2018 that voters approved $99,200 to partially fund the existing setup, which Deering said was installed last year.

The lights continuously flash yellow until fire vehicles are called to leave the station. A sensor triggers the lights to change to solid yellow and then to red, Deering said. They then return to flashing yellow after vehicles leave the station.

Select board members said they are receiving regular complaints from residents about the flashing yellow traffic signals, which were installed to allow on-duty firefighters to respond to calls quickly and safely without having to stop before turning out of the station.

“I've probably heard more complaints about that light than anything else in town,” Select Board member Mark Mathison said.

Michael Herman of the select board said residents have complained to him that the system is not what voters envisioned when they first approved funding for the signal. Instead, he said they believed the system would only be active when fire apparatuses were leaving the station.

The existing fixture includes three yellow lights, one on a pole on the side of the road and two others situated above Eldredge Park Way. Funding for the system was included for years in the town’s capital improvement plan until the select board asked that it be pulled out and funded separately, Kelly said.

The board expressed urgency in getting a system installed, Kelly said, but the final product did not meet the expectations of residents or town officials. Kelly also said there was no presentation made to the public about the signals ahead of the 2018 town meeting vote.

“In my mind, I was looking at one blinking yellow light,” Select Board Chair Mefford Runyon said. “I wasn’t thinking of three.”

The three lights were installed in order to meet safety standards set by the Federal Highway Administration, Kelly said.

“I just can’t believe that in 2022, we cannot fix that,” Herman said. “It’s a shame if it costs us any more money, but I would support finding a solution to this.”

Mathison estimated that “hundreds” of residents have registered complaints with the town about the signal system, and the town should be proactive in finding a solution to the problem.

“Whatever it takes, we better be walking away from town meeting in May assuring people that we’re going to take care of it in October,” he said.

Members asked if the lights could simply be turned off, but Kelly said the board should first discuss the matter with Deering. The board plans to meet with Deering and Tom Daley, the town’s public works director, to discuss options for the signal system ahead of town meeting.

Deering said any solution regarding the signals should prioritize safety and the ability of fire officials to quickly respond to emergencies. He cautioned against calls to deactivate the lights except when the department receives a call.

It is critical to response times,” Deering said of the system. “If we were to disable it, it does open up some potential challenges. What happens if there’s a crash and we’re delayed in time? The reason it was put in is to help improve getting resources to an emergency as quickly as possible and as safely as possible.”

Looking toward the future, Select Board member Kevin Galligan said the system could be redesigned as part of plans for a new fire station, which has yet to be officially sited.

This will be relocated, no doubt,” he said. “We might have an opportunity through that design to alter this to something that’s more acceptable.”

Kelly said the system could be relocated, but additional work would need to be put into replace conduits and wiring.

Email Ryan Bray at ryan@capecodchronicle.com