Saratoga County

Sheriff urges caution around powerless traffic lights

'People just have to understand that, if lights are out, it's a four-way stop sign'
Many motorists at this intersection in Rexford did not follow proper protocols Wednesday morning, as traffic signals went dark.
Many motorists at this intersection in Rexford did not follow proper protocols Wednesday morning, as traffic signals went dark.

Police on Wednesday reminded drivers to use caution at intersections with unlit traffic lights, after a power outage left more that 7,000 National Grid customers without power.

Outages occurred during the morning commute in Glenville, Clifton Park and Niskayuna, according to National Grid, and traffic signals, including at the Shenendehowa campus and one at Balltown and Riverview roads in Rexford, were left dark.

Saratoga County Sheriff Michael Zurlo said the department does not deploy deputies to intersections in such situations because those efforts can slow traffic more than the out-of-service light does. Deputies’ safety is also an issue, he said.

“We typically don’t get out and direct traffic,” he said. “We don’t try to get out in the middle of the intersection.”

Sheriff’s deputies, he added, are usually in high demand during large power outages.

“Typically, we’re running to other calls and alarms during a power outage,” he said. 

In general, motorists encountering intersections when the signal lights are out should treat the situation as they would if there were stop signs for all entering traffic, Zurlo said.

“People just have to understand that, if lights are out, it’s a four-way stop sign, and [simultaneously stopping motorists should] yield to the right,” he said.

In Clifton Park, a portable generator was used to restore power to some traffic lights.

In the early 2000s, a bad storm knocked out power throughout the town, leaving many signal lights dark, said Clifton Park Town Supervisor Phil Barrett.

“I remember approaching the traffic light at Route 146 and Clifton Country Road in the aftermath of the summer storm and witnessing the problems created by the inoperable traffic lights. It was a situation that needed to be addressed,” he said.

The town partnered with the state Department of Transportation to rewire several traffic lights on state roads to enable the town to connect a portable generator to the affected light and quickly restore power. 

“Since that time, we have continued to expand our capabilities by having more lights professionally prepared to accept power from a portable generator,” Barrett said. “Town security officers are responsible for delivering the generators to the site. We have had some major storms over the years where the generators were in place for hours or days.”

The town’s security officers are also responsible for maintaining the generators during lengthy deployments, Barrett said.

Generators were used Wednesday morning at the Route 146 and Moe Road intersection and the intersection of Route 146 and the Shenendehowa campus entrance.

Town safety officials also planned to use a generator to restore power at the Route 146 and Blue Barns Road intersection, but power came back on there while they while setting up the generator.

National Grid reported four separate outages in the area on Wednesday. By 4 p.m., power had been restored to all affected areas, according to the utility’s website.

National Grid spokesman Nate Stone attributed the outages to an equipment issue at the company’s Grooms Road substation. 

“Unfortunately, these things happen, but we’re on it,” Stone said earlier Wednesday.

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