Wacky traffic lights, power outages plague Duluth on Wednesday

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Wacky traffic lights, power outages plague Duluth on Wednesday By Scott Thistle News Tribune staff writers

Traffic control lights in Duluth went wacky Wednesday, backing up mid-day drivers.

A malfunctioning mini-computer was to blame, while a power outage in the Piedmont Heights neighborhood caused lights at Seven Corners to shut down completely. All of the problems occurred between 11:47 a.m. and 1:30 p.m., said Marsile Cyr, signal technician for the city of Duluth.

"I felt like a dog chasing its tail and didn't know which way to turn,'' he said.

Traffic signals at all Second Street intersections were locked onto green while all the cross streets were locked onto red after a computerized switch malfunctioned.

Located at Duluth Fire Department Headquarters, the switch turns all traffic lights on Second Street to green when firefighters respond to an emergency to the east. After firefighters pass through an intersection, the computer should reset the traffic lights, but that didn't happen Wednesday.

While Cyr was repairing that system, a power outage in the Piedmont Heights area caused traffic signals at Seven Corners to shut off.

That power outage affected Piedmont Heights, Lincoln Park and part of Hermantown, said Walt Kramer, Minnesota Power spokesman. The outage occurred around 11 a.m. with power restored between noon and 1 p.m. As of Wednesday night, the cause of that outage was unknown.

Another power outage affected residents on Howard Gnesen Road. It occurred about the same time that an excavator became tangled with telephone and power lines.

Up to 5,000 people were affected by the outages, Kramer said.

Cyr said he had to leave the Second Street traffic signals partly inoperative while connecting a temporary generator at Seven Corners.

The Second Street signals were reset at about noon, but then traffic lights at the intersection of Mesaba Avenue and Central Entrance began flashing, Cyr said.

Resetting the Second Street lights might have triggered the Mesaba Avenue problem, although there's no way to know for sure, Cyr said.

"It was basically a computer glitch,'' he said.


-- Martin Thompson (mthom1927@aol.com), June 28, 2001

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