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Michelle Davies | The Journal Gazette
The Maplecrest Road and Monarch Drive intersection has one of the city’s several solar-powered LED stop signs.

Bright idea for drivers

Transportation officials are rightly using solar energy to enhance standard stop signs with flashing red LED lights that draw motorists’ attention. In Fort Wayne, stop signs at a handful of potentially dangerous intersections have been upgraded to help prevent accidents. And in Wells County, the Indiana Department of Transportation has been monitoring the effects and costs of enhanced stop signs at two rural highway intersections as part of a three-year pilot project.

The enhanced stop signs, such as those at Maplecrest Road and Monarch Drive, are another attempt by city officials to improve traffic safety while keeping tight budgets in mind.

The busy intersection near Haley Elementary School is a four-way stop and has long had traditional signs. But Frank Suarez, a city spokesman, said the solar-powered stop signs with flashing red LED lights were installed because of the Maplecrest extension project.

City officials wanted to ensure that motorists driving on the newly completed extension connecting the Georgetown area to New Haven – who might be unfamiliar with the area – wouldn’t blow through the intersection.

Eventually, a traffic signal will be installed. But in the meantime, the solar-powered flashing lights on the stop sign increase safety because they draw extra attention from drivers and because the LED lights are bright, making the stop sign more visible.

The city has also installed the solar-powered flashing stop signs at Covington and Smith roads as well as at pedestrian crossings on Spring Street in front of the University of Saint Francis and in the 1700 block of South Calhoun Street near the Neighborhood Health Clinic.

The flashing stop signs at Covington and Smith roads replaced an overhead blinking signal.

A solar-powered stop sign costs $1,600. A traditional stop sign costs $100, but a flashing overhead traffic signal, likely the most comparable safety solution, costs $25,000 and must be hooked up to electricity.

The 48-inch signs have eight red LED lights on the perimeter of the sign that flash once every second. The solar panel can power the sign for up to 14 days without sunlight, and batteries last about five years.

The Indiana Department of Transportation’s Fort Wayne District just completed a three-year trial of similar solar panel flashing LED stop signs based on flashing stop signs installed in December 2009 at two intersections in Wells County. INDOT expects to release the study results in February.

The flashing stop signs were installed where County Road 300 West (Old Indiana 303) intersects with Indiana 116 and at its intersection with Indiana 124 in Wells County because those two intersections have long been trouble spots with numerous accidents, including fatalities.

Another benefit of the solar-powered stop signs is that they work even during power outages, such as the outage that took out the traffic signals at Maplecrest Road and East State Boulevard on Dec. 21. The traffic lights were out, but the solar-powered stop signs continued to work just a couple of blocks away near the elementary school.

The city’s use of the flashing stop signs at intersections where recent changes have been made is wise. Using the upgraded stop signs at dark or more rural intersections should also improve safety. The flashing lights make it easier for motorists to see the stop signs, and the solar panel means the sign can easily be installed without being concerned about the proximity of a source of electricity.