WILMINGTON -- If you ask most locals about the best way to and from Wrightsville Beach you'll hear: "there is no good way. Just pick a road and take your chances." There is a ring of truth to that sarcastic remark, and we'll explain why as we look at Wilmington's seven pounds of traffic we jam into that five pound bag daily. And the winner, or loser, is College and Oleander. As many as 100,000 cars a day pass through this intersection. State traffic counters were out there this week verifying the rapidly growing traffic numbers. Consider this the next time you're stopped here: the 13 traffic lights at this single intersection engage in eight different movements every cycle. Hit this intersection wrong at a peak time of day and there's a good chance you can finish your coffee and eat your donut before you move again. Wilmington Traffic Engineer Don Bennett said, "Both of the left turn lanes on Oleander have enough cars that we would put dual left turn lanes if we could. The two northbound lanes on College, we obviously need three at a minimum. So we do what we can do to manage the traffic." And what they try to do is keep the traffic moving in groups, or platoons, in traffic talk. "We send traffic in platoons down the roadway," Bennett said. On a busy main road like College, those platoons get stretched out after a fashion. So engineers use the intersections with smaller side roads as opportunities to regroup those platoons. That's why the light at the Wrightsville Avenue may have no apparent rhyme or reason to it when you're stacked up on 30 cars deep on that stretch of pavement approaching College. At College and Oleander, you could be waiting two minutes and 24 seconds before finally moving again. That's by design -- the longest delay programmed into the signals. Engineers aren't happy about making you wait that long but that's the best they can do right now to make this overloaded intersection flow as best it can. "We're always looking for tweaks and improvements," Bennett said. To that end the City is in the process of buying new controller systems. Instead of the six cycling patterns they can currently program, they'll be able to program 64, which will help them handle special traffic situations and refine what the lights do at different times of the day and night. It may help that seven pounds of traffic fit into the five pound bag a little less painfully. The new controllers will also use fiber optic links instead of the old wires currently in place. That will allow faster communication and more traffic cameras -- 25 instead of the current ten. If you have suggestions for Wilmington Traffic engineers you can call them at 341-4696 or visit the City of Wilmington web site at www.wilmingtonnc.gov.
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