Hillsborough installs red lights ahead of power outages


Using solar power, intersections can automatically become four-way stops.

TAMPA, Fla. — Hurricane season is almost here, and Hillsborough County is doing what it can to prepare for any storms that head our way.

Part of this includes an innovative idea that arose from Hurricane Irma.

It is a traffic signaling system designed to allow first responders to spend more time saving lives and less time directing traffic during widespread power outages. Eventually, Hillsborough County hopes to have solar-powered beacons installed at all 316 intersections it manages.

“It was a big wake-up call that led us to create a damage assessment app,” said Kyla Fisher of Hillsborough County Traffic Operations.

Fischer says Hurricane Irma inspired the idea after knocking out power to an area of ​​more than 900 square miles.

That left local police, deputies and others trying to direct traffic at dozens of intersections when they could have been dealing with other storm-related emergencies.

“That’s why these solar-powered emergency beacons were put in place so they could respond to other things instead of going to traffic-controlling intersections,” Fischer said.

The innovative beacon system had never been used elsewhere and the necessary equipment was already available, including the same solar panels that are used to power school zone signals throughout the county.

So far, Hillsborough is about halfway through his list.

The idea is simple. When the power is cut off, the solar panels turn on. Red lights begin to flash, turning the intersection into a four-way stop.

Many people who work and live around where the beacons have been installed say they like the idea.

Many had seen them before but had no idea what they were.

“I think it’s very cool, it’s very useful. Hopefully we don’t have a hurricane season. But if we do, it will be very helpful so emergency officials can go and rescue other people in need who are in danger,” said Brianna Pugh, who was stopped at one of the intersections. “And people who are on the street can still be safe.”

Another driver, Laura Odom, also liked the idea because people don’t always know what to do at a dark junction.

“I think it will definitely – it will love – avoid a lot of chaos, you know what I mean? Lots of panic,” Odom said.

Since 2019, the county has been installing the solar-powered beacon system at key intersections. Each project costs approximately $20,000. Pilot Marco Ortega, who saw the beacons but never really knew what they were, thinks it’s money well spent.

“You know it should make life a lot easier for everyone,” Ortega said, “And just save the cost of having people here. Make it safer overall.

Hillsborough has not set a target date for the competition, but says all 316 intersections are expected to be redeveloped over the next year.

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