700 cameras, 1,500 traffic lights -- here's how GDOT keeps traffic moving

ATLANTA — Sensors in roadways and removing dangerous debris from interstates are just a couple ways the Georgia Department of Transportation is managing traffic in metro Atlanta.

GDOT told Channel 2’s Sophia Choi tricks to shorten your commute and explained how people risk their lives to keep our roadways clear.

“In this facility, we utilize a whole host of technology, including cameras, message signs and control of traffic signals to best optimize traffic,” Andrew Heath with GDOT told Choi.

More than 700 cameras help command staff dispatch Highway Emergency Response Operators, or HEROS, to clear debris and cars off roads.

“Every minute a lane is blocked on the interstate creates a compounded effect on the delay,” Heath said.

Channel 2 Action News rode with HERO Rico Dawson and saw motorist after motorist stranded on metro interstates.

“We’re always on the interstate so anything in the roadway, nine times out of 10, we’ll get [to an accident] first,” Dawson said.

HEROs are on metro roads 24 hours a day, working 10-hour shifts. Sometimes they must render aid to injured motorists waiting on first responders.

“A lot of people think that it’s just about changing tires and giving gas,” Dawson said. “We do that faithfully but the main objective is to keep the roadway clear.”

Channel 2 was there as Dawson shut down a busy interstate to sweep debris off the road after an accident, then help law enforcement and the drivers involved move to the right shoulder, out of the way of fast-moving traffic.

GDOT cameras often catch traffic problems and deploy HEROs to the scene.

“We can provide eyes on the road to our emergency responders so we can tell them what’s going on before they respond to the scene,” Heath said.

2 Investigates: Traffic Solutions in metro Atlanta

At the Traffic Management Center operators tackle another commuter headache -- red lights.

“What’s happening on that screen? We see a lot of red,” Choi asked GDOT manager Alan David as they looked at a screen monitoring traffic signals in the Traffic Management Center.

“That’s a signal that’s actually malfunctioning right now on state route 280,” David explained. “He’s dispatched our crews. I think they’re doing some maintenance work out there.”

GDOT employees control nearly 1,500 signals on metro streets, and employ a team of 30 engineers to test sensors in roadways to make sure those lights turn from red to green when drivers stop at a light.

It’s just one more piece of a large traffic puzzle people like Rico Dawson are trying to solve while keeping drivers safe.

“[Stranded drivers] don’t know what’s going on. They’re just scared,” Dawson said. “As soon as they see you and they realize that they’re ok, that moment right there is why I like being a HERO.”

The Georgia Department of Transportation gave Choi some tricks and tips for metro commuters.

First, GDOT suggests drivers stop at the white line at red traffic lights, not the crosswalk. They said many lights have sensors at that white line so if drivers pull past that line, the sensor may not know a car is waiting.

Next, if you stop at red light after red light on the same road GDOT said you may be driving too fast. They said many traffic lights are timed to the speed limit, so driving the posted speed means more green lights

Finally, if something or someone is blocking traffic, call 511 and speak to a dispatcher at the Traffic Management Center. HEROs are waiting to help if drivers are stranded on interstates.