A sign of things to come: Hertfordshire’s traffic control centre

County councillor Stuart Pile, Derek Twigg, assistant network manager at the county council, and Mat

County councillor Stuart Pile, Derek Twigg, assistant network manager at the county council, and Matt Kelley, Ringway's divisional manager at the transport control centre - Credit: Archant

WITH questions raised about a £200,000 outlay on installing traffic information signs, the Comet visited the transport control centre which will run them.

The county council's transport control centre

The county council's transport control centre - Credit: Archant

Twelve signs – providing live information about incidents – have gone up around Stevenage in the last month with more set to follow in Hitchin and Letchworth GC by 2015.

The signs form part of a wider Hertfordshire County Council strategy to ease congestion across the county, managed by a centralised control centre at County Hall.

The centre opened in October last year at a cost of £400,000 and is operated by 18 staff, who monitor the county’s road network.

If an accident occurs, traffic signals can be adjusted and messages displayed in a bid to redirect traffic ease congestion. Maintenance crews can also be sent out to repair highway faults at high speed.

County councillor Stuart Pile spoke to the Comet about why the control centre, run in partnership with maintenance contractors Ringway, had been set up.

“Many councils are realising that local authorities cannot build their way out of problems with congestion,” said Cllr Pile, the executive member for highways and transport.

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“We started to look at forming a clear strategy to improve the management of traffic to give people confidence in the reliability of their journey. Without this strategy congestion is only going to get worse.

“It’s about having real-time traffic information while in the car or beforehand on your phone. We will be able to tell people before they set out if there’s a problem on a road they use or make people aware of where they can park before they get there. You can be told when your bus is going to arrive so you can don’t have to sit out in the cold waiting for 20 minutes.”

A Comet poll asking readers whether money needed to be spent on traffic information signs found 83 per cent of respondents were against the investment, but Cllr Pile has defended the scheme.

“It sounds a lot of money but it’s about what we are saving in terms of disruption to the network and easing congestion,” he said.

“It was always going to be difficult to measure the financial benefits of introducing intelligent transport systems. The biggest gains will probably come from managing repairs and scheme improvements to the road network in such a way as to make better use of Ringway staff and resources.”

CCTV cameras and journey time counters are used to monitor traffic flow but Derek Twigg, the county council’s assistant network manager, has said it is necessary.

“We have CCTV installed for monitoring purposes but it’s not recorded and we don’t keep any of that data,” he said.

“People will say ‘Big Brother is watching’ but it is for good reason. It is not about monitoring people, it is making sure people get where they need to go.”

A website collating traffic information across the county is expected to be rolled out in the summer.