Invisible hands, technology work to keep traffic moving through Columbus, OH streets

The center of power for Columbus commuters might be in a plain office building on the Northeast Side where traffic engineers can control nearly every stoplight in the city with a few keystrokes.

When congestion is so heavy that it turns highway ramps into parking lots, the engineers can turn red lights green and flush traffic through major corridors to alleviate jams, thanks to a decade-long plan to link traffic lights in a network.

The plan to update and interconnect lights and install traffic cameras has made it easier for city workers to keep an eye on the busiest corridors. They design programs that make traffic flow more smoothly through regular pinch points or respond on the fly to unforeseen slowdowns.

“I see people do some incredible things,” said Mark Stephenoff, traffic-signal operations engineer.