CBS4 Problem Solvers Update: DPW admits “deficiencies” with new flashing beacons

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INDIANAPOLIS, Ind.—Indianapolis Department of Public Works is now admitting there are kinks in the program the organization started phasing in over a year ago.

They started installing new flashing school zone beacons around Indianapolis schools near highly-trafficked roads first before expanding to more than 400 school zone lights around the city.

Our CBS4 investigation showed some of the new equipment isn’t working, especially near Warren and Wayne Township Schools.

Our cameras caught the beacons on 16th Street near Warren Central High School turned off nearly the entire time kids walked and were dropped off in the dark.

DPW officials were reluctant to respond to our requests for comment about the issue during our initial investigation and stuck mostly to talking about another issue when questioned by city-county councillors during the Public Works Committee meeting Thursday night.

Councillors Jeff Miller and Janice McHenry both raised concerns about the inability to change the lights for unplanned events.

Right now, there’s only a manual way to address an issue with lights flashing at the wrong times or updating the schedule per a school’s request. DPW has to send an employee out with a laptop to one of the hundreds of lights and change it using a program.

That means it wouldn’t be feasible to make changes in event of a delay due to weather.

“I have thanked God many times for a very warm winter because we have not really had any type of emergency situations or unplanned situations where the lights needed to be changed,” said Jeff Miller. “I don’t think there was a solution, other than drivers hopefully going slow.”

DPW’s Nathan Sheets testified that remote access will help solve both of those issues and was always a planned part of phase 3 of their rollout.

“We’ll deploy some equipment that will allow remote programming to occur,” said Sheets. “It also includes a module that will allow us to better manage the flashers and determine when flashers may be not working. It will notify if one of the LEDs go out.”

Sheets indicated that the contractor would begin working to install that technology in 30-45 days, which means the problems will likely persist for a few more months.

And still, there was also a question of the legality or validity of the program itself.

Councillors on the committee voted to recommend amending the current ordinance to make sure the program matches up with the law.

Right now, the ordinance specifies that drivers must slow down in school zones between 7 a.m. and 4:30 p.m., which doesn’t match signage which indicates they must only do so when lights are flashing.

To avoid any potential conflict over which is law, the committee wants to see the full council vote to resolve the issue.

Councillors and school superintendents all seem to agree that the program, fully in place, could make kids safer on their way to and from school.

But councillor Miller asked DPW to bring similar programs before the council in the future to avoid confusion and discussion like this well after its been rolled out.

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