Montgomery traffic signals fixed after two painful days

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Local,Alan Suderman

Montgomery County managed to fix a broken computer system Thursday that had caused serious headaches and delays for commuters for two straight days.

"The system is fixed," County Executive Ike Leggett said. "We will continue to monitor it throughout the evening and overnight but we anticipate that [Friday] morning's rush hour will be much smoother."

Traffic problems began early Wednesday, when an aging centralized computer that is supposed to control traffic flow failed, leading to uncoordinated lights and rush-hour traffic snarls in a county already known for frustrating commutes.

AAA Mid-Atlantic spokesman John Townsend said it was "absolute gridlock and chaos" after the computer crashed.

"We live and die by synchronized red lights in the Washington metropolitan area," he said.

Councilman Mike Knapp, D-Germantown, said it was "pretty scary" that the county was relying on one computer to keep its traffic flowing smoothly without a backup system. He said the County Council would be turning a sharp eye to review its traffic management efforts.

Leggett said county engineers were able to reconnect the central computer system to the county's 750 or so traffic lights at about 6 p.m. Thursday. He added that he has instructed his staff to find a way to speed up an ongoing $35 million upgrade to the county's traffic management system.

The county offered free rides on its public bus system Thursday and decided to extend the offer to Friday in hopes it would ease congestion.

Live shots of rush-hour traffic at major intersections Thursday afternoon before the computer system was fixed all showed the same images: seemingly endless lines of cars, brake lights glowing red.

County spokeswoman Esther Bowring reiterated that there was no evidence of foul play, such as computer hacking, that caused the computer glitch. The county's traffic problems started Wednesday about the same time as Metro's communication systems -- including its call center, NextBus notification system, debit card machines and the public address system -- failed because of a power outage.

Officials at both agencies said there was no connection between the problems.

asuderman@washingtonexaminer.com

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