Internet Explorer 11 is not supported

For optimal browsing, we recommend Chrome, Firefox or Safari browsers.

Just 36 of Houston’s 91 Smart Traffic Signs Are Functioning

The program includes nearly 650 traffic detectors, more than 100 cameras and 91 signs that relay information to Houston TranStar, but officials have only been able to bring 36 of the dynamic message signs online since the project began in 2017.

Houston drivers can use all the help they can get — just ask the other drivers — but have waited years for a system aimed at making them smarter travelers, as delays have left a city plan for dynamic signs less than halfway operational.

Despite years of work to distribute, install and integrate the signs into Houston's internationally acclaimed traffic management system, Houston officials have brought only 36 of the 91 dynamic message signs online.

"While only a small percentage are operational, our team continues to make progress each week connecting the signs to power and link them to the communication system," said Erin Jones, spokeswoman for Houston Public Works.

The signs, similar to those on area freeways, are intended to relay traffic information and emergency details to drivers. Many are often used during Amber Alerts as authorities seek missing children, but normally give drivers details related to travel times or the need to detour.

Drivers where the few working signs are located said while they are noticeable, they also have little bearing on the route taken.

"I've never seen it warn me of anything," said Manuel Falcao, 46, who drives to and from work along Wayside. "If it did, I don't know what I can do about it."

The signs are the most visible piece of a broader plan for Houston to deploy so-called intelligent transportation system management to major streets. The program, which started in 2017, includes nearly 650 traffic detectors, more than 100 cameras and the 91 signs — all relaying information to Houston TranStar.

TranStar is the nerve center of Houston's traffic information, a combination of city, Texas Department of Transportation, Harris County and Metropolitan Transit Authority resources. Almost everything everyone knows about traffic conditions — across virtually all mapping programs on phones and online — emanates from TranStar.

The dynamic signs are intended to bring more of that information to drivers, but the rollout has been much slower than anticipated. TransCore, the company that installs and manages much of the equipment, said in 2017 when the system was announced that completion would happen in early 2020.

As of late-September, Jones confirmed 36 are fully functional and another 34 are being "integrated into the system."

Those are the ones that have become a familiar site for some drivers, constantly churning out a "SIGN UNDER TEST" message or something similar.

"How long does it take to test a sign?," Bethany Graves said, recalling the weeks of flashing messages on the sign on lower Westheimer before it started relaying information in the past two months.

Of the remaining, 16 are installed and the city is working with CenterPoint to have them powered. Five are pending installation where officials are still awaiting the go-ahead for that exact location.

Reasons for the delays in getting them online vary. Announced two months before the remnants of Hurricane Harvey swamped the area, the project took a backseat to relief efforts. As installation neared in 2020, the world was shuttered by the COVID pandemic. Supply chain issues slowed progress as well, Jones said.

Officials in the interim also opted to upgrade the communication system that links the various pieces together, Jones said, and still awaiting some coordination with TxDOT, the Federal Aviation Administration and CenterPoint.

Jones said officials are waiting to test many of the signs, to make sure they hold up in the Houston elements.

(c)2023 the Houston Chronicle. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.
TNS delivers daily news service and syndicated premium content to more than 2,000 media and digital information publishers.
From Our Partners