A Peek Inside the Traffic Operations Center

Traffic proceeding down Valencia Boulevard as viewed from pedestrian bridge near City Hall looking west. (Dan Watson / Signal file art)
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By Mayor Laurene Weste

Mayor Laurene Weste

Traffic is one of the most common concerns raised by residents throughout Southern California. Here in City of Santa Clarita, we utilize a sophisticated, extensive, state-of-the-art Intelligent Transportation System to manage traffic circulation on our streets, to keep you safe.

Utilizing the latest technology including 30 monitors, alarms, camera controls and fiber optic cables, the Traffic Operations Center or TOC, is the core of the city’s multi-million dollar Intelligent Transportation System. Every time you drive our city streets, this multi-level operation is focused on making your trip safer, smoother and easier.

The TOC is located on the third floor of City Hall. Within the room there are several massive monitors on the walls and several more mounted on desks. These screens can show what is happening at any of the 191 signalized intersections in Santa Clarita, monitored by 300 cameras. They are connected through 60 miles of fiber optic cable, known as dark fiber, and traffic engineers can pan, tilt, zoom and move cameras to zero in on issues or potential problems, for a quicker response time.

So how does it work? The system allows staff to control and manage all city traffic signals through the use of data received from strategically placed cameras, count stations and other traffic systems. One of the primary features of the TOC is that it gives traffic engineers daily access to information that is critical to addressing traffic issues, helping them make necessary signal adjustments to ensure efficient traffic flow.

From within the TOC engineers can adjust signal timing, monitor traffic flow, see how many cars are waiting to make a turn and even if a pedestrian has pushed the crosswalk button. What is really amazing is that they can do all of that, without even entering the TOC. The technology allows engineers to make the needed adjustments remotely. Should a stop light go out or malfunction, the TOC sends staff alerts so they can rectify the problem. With an engaged staff and a network of employees, contractors and sheriff’s deputies out on the streets, traffic engineers have a constant flow of information and notifications if there are issues, which is certainly a benefit in disasters and emergencies.

With this strong network and efficient remote capabilities, engineers do not have to actually be in the TOC to effectively utilize the system, and that was by design. However, having access to the monitors allows engineers to get a broad view of what is happening thanks to the ability to track traffic from up to 30 intersections on 30 monitors at a time. They can see how road conditions change and affect traffic flow as cars make their way through our city. This is really critical when issues arise on Interstate 5 and the 14 Freeway.

The ability to synchronize and remotely monitor the traffic systems to adapt to changing circumstances is benefit enough, but the TOC is also good for the environment. The system results in an improved traffic flow that reduces idling and overall travel times, thus reducing emissions. Utilizing this technology is also cost efficient because it improves traffic flow by maximizing the current capacity of the roadway system.

This system has been helping monitor traffic on Santa Clarita streets since 2006, although it evolves each year with improved technology. The next step of the Intelligent Transportation System is the use of adaptive controllers. Adaptive controllers monitor traffic and automatically adjust traffic signal timing to accommodate real-time traffic flow. These controllers are currently being tested on a stretch of Whites Canyon Road. By the year 2020, the plan is to have 120 adaptive controllers on city streets actually managing circulation with real time traffic conditions.

Thanks to technology and a highly trained staff, the City of Santa Clarita is working every day to utilize the control we do have, to make sure all of our residents get where they are going safely and smoothly.

Mayor Laurene Weste is a member of the Santa Clarita City Council and can be reached at: [email protected].


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