Atlanta’s Regional Traffic Operations Program (RTOP) Selects Intelligent and Safe Nickel-Zinc Battery UPS to Fight Congestion, Compromised Power and Aging Infrastructure

Move over Hollywood, not many people realize Atlanta, Georgia is one of the top three film industry hubs in the world. But the Peach State’s capital has more than the motion picture crowd moving to town. Atlanta‘s other bustling industries and its relatively low crime rate are some of the reasons it’s now the third fastest growing metro area in the nation. More than five million residents. And many days, it seems they’re all on the road at the same time.

Georgia’s Department of Transportation (GDOT) is focused on projects that have proven return on investment. One of them is the Regional Traffic Operations Program (RTOP), a multi-jurisdictional, cutting edge, signal timing program. By deploying signal timing on Atlanta’s busiest arterial roadways, GDOT is improving traffic flow and reducing vehicle emissions. RTOP is also able to remotely monitor all corridors, helping local jurisdictions rapidly identify, locate and repair problems—and better manage traffic.

Jason Lewis, GDOT project manager with Brooks-Berry-Haynie & Associates.

Jason Lewis, GDOT project manager with Brooks-Berry-Haynie & Associates.

To learn more about how RTOP is working, we talked with Jason Lewis, project manager with Brooks-Berry-Haynie & Associates. Mr. Lewis is responsible for ground and aerial maintenance on 1,140 traffic signals, on 22 state arterial routes in Georgia. Brooks-Berry-Haynie & Associates is one of the firms providing GDOT with constant corridor monitoring, timing evaluations and changes, maintenance, equipment swaps, full rebuilds and other physical repairs.

Q: GDOT was very precise in selecting which areas to deploy new technologies for RTOP. What were the challenges in these targeted areas?

Mr. Lewis: It can be summed up with aging and challenging infrastructure, lots of cars on the roads, power quality and our weather. We definitely have our fair share of thunderstorms, which can knock out power. A lot of these intersections had older infrastructure where power connections had deteriorated and some of the grounding needed to be brought up to spec. We were also dealing in high pedestrian areas where it wasn’t cost smart to tear up large sections of sidewalk and add extra equipment in order to house the traditional lead-acid batteries. But the real meat of the problem was a power issue. Sometimes it’s dirty power coming into the system. There are areas, particularly where the infrastructure is old and degraded, that we aren’t getting clean power. Atlanta is known for traffic challenges and when power is compromised, congestion just gets worse. These intersections are in areas hit by lots of brown out issues, where the intersections would go into red flash for no clear, definitive reason.

Q: What Uninterruptible Power Supply (UPS) did you have in place prior to RTOP and was it helping?

Mr. Lewis: We were using lead-acid battery backup. In ten of the intersections where we had lead-acid batteries, they all failed, so we’ve completely removed them and put in the UPStealth, a nickel-zinc battery-based uninterruptible power supply (UPS). Now as the lead-acid batteries die, we are replacing them with nickel-zinc based UPS.

Q: How did you go about deciding on a lead-acid battery backup alternative and ultimately choosing nickel-zinc battery-based UPS?

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Mr. Lewis: We had been discussing a couple of these problem corridors and then our distributor introduced us to a ZincFive engineer attending an IMSA conference. On a very technical level, he took the time to explain the hows and whys of the nickel-zinc based UPS (ZincFive’s UPStealth) alternative to lead-acid battery backup. I’m a very technical guy and went through the gauntlet with him. He said, “How technical do you want to go?”  I said, “Go.” We ran through all of the advantages and the three phases the nickel-zinc UPStealth goes through to determine if the sine wave is clean. He convinced me that the nickel-zinc battery-based UPS would give us good, pure power and we would no longer have these power issues. Having this knowledge allowed me to push for a trial on the RTOP project.

Q: What distinctions of the UPStealth best fit the project needs?

Mr. Lewis: Knowing that the compact nickel-zinc batteries and UPS fit into the existing cabinet without changing the base was a huge benefit, along with the fact that the UPStealth monitors the sine wave, conditions the power and provides battery backup in several steps. That really impressed us.

Q: Where are UPStealth systems deployed, so far, in Atlanta’s RTOP and how are they working?

Mr. Lewis:  After our initial test, we began upgrading problem intersections, replacing the traditional lead-acid battery UPS with nickel-zinc UPS. All the nickel-zinc UPStealth units are working fantastic.

There are several phases of deployment so far: The first involves the installation of 40 UPStealth units in a big footprint, spread out in clusters of much needed battery backup. The original site is close to the busiest airport on the planet, the Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport on State Route 6.

At Mercedes-Benz Stadium, home to the Atlanta Falcons and Atlanta United, they had just completed the sidewalks and held their ribbon cutting ceremony, when they decided to add battery backup to the connecting roads. We have several heavily trafficked pedestrian areas that need a UPS, but because of all the pedestrians, there isn’t enough room to install a secondary cabinet to house the big, lead-acid batteries. That’s also really expensive. Instead, we proposed installing the UPStealth, which slips right inside the existing cabinet, batteries and all. We also have another seven intersections that have concrete poured around the cabinet base and they have never had battery backup. These intersections are also getting UPStealth to avoid removing concrete walkways to upsize the cabinet base.

We have units installed in DeKalb County and near Stone Mt. Park. All of them have been successfully deployed.

The UPStealth is a big part of Buckhead, an upscale retail area with 23 intersections. That area is challenging in that it’s in the heart of Atlanta and everything is concrete. There is no grass at these intersections, so to come in and replace the cabinet base to put in traditional, lead-acid UPS, is intensive and expensive. We would have to come in, take the cabinet off the base, have the intersections go dark and do expensive concrete work.

We also have a project coming up where we are replacing 16 lead-acid battery UPS systems with nickel-zinc and another where the UPStealth will be installed at a unique off-ramp location where we need to back-up utility power to that signal.

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Q: How specifically have you noticed a change at the intersections where you have installed the nickel-zinc UPStealth?

Mr. Lewis: When we decided to test the UPStealth, we picked an intersection that already had a lead-acid battery backup installed, but that lead-acid UPS wasn’t working. There were still failures due to brownouts and dirty power. When we popped in the UPStealth unit, it immediately improved the intersection reliability and eliminated failures due to power. We no longer have power issues wherever nickel-zinc UPStealth is installed. We had some very problematic intersections and the UPStealth immediately cleaned up the issues. We began replacing other UPS’s in that quadrant and are gradually branching out.

We also like how the UPStealth monitors the incoming utility power sine wave and actively filters the power, truly giving us a solution to the power issues we’re facing. This is crucial because we’re a very large city with aging infrastructure and we have unconditioned power issues where sine wave quality fluctuates. The UPStealth monitors the sine waves and cleans them up as well as giving us constant battery support. That’s crucial.

Nearby, the UPStealth is helping at an off-ramp intersection where it’s particularly dangerous if the power fails and lights go dark. I know we’ve had many large storms come through creating power outages, yet where we have the UPStealth, those intersections continue running. 

We’re all impressed with the design and function of the UPStealth. 

Q: What was it like to install the UPStealth?

Mr. Lewis: For installation, the UPStealth system is very self-explanatory. It’s a very easy, very intuitive installation process. 


Q:  How much of a role do you see uninterruptible power supply playing in intelligent transportation goals, such as automated, connected vehicles?

Mr. Lewis: When you start having the conversation about autonomous and connected vehicles, reliance on an infrastructure that stays powered 100 percent of the time has absolutely never been more critical.