The mysterious case of the man controlling the traffic light on Highway 31


The mysterious case of the man controlling the traffic light on Highway 31

Photo by Matt Blois

By MATT BLOIS

At a recent Board of Mayor and Aldermen meeting, Alderman Susan Zemek said she spotted something strange at the intersection of Thompson’s Station Road and Highway 31.

“There literally is a man in a truck pushing a button… He is there to do the light,” she said. “My husband’s seen him. I’ve seen him. There’s someone sitting there.”

According to Zemek, the man waited at the intersection and then switched the light as soon as a car arrived going east on Thompson’s Station Road, stopping all the traffic going north.

Her husband saw the truck first, and for a while, she ignored him. She didn’t think his theory made sense. But then she started seeing posts about the mysterious truck on Facebook. That’s what motivated her to ask about it at the meeting.

“He’s there every day. He’s sitting in the parking lot,” she said. “I don’t know how he’s doing it. I guess it’s computerized.”

Alderman Chad Whittenburg said the city’s Transportation Advisory Committee had heard about the truck as well. He said the committee asked City Administrator Victor Lay to look into the matter.

It turns out, a man in a truck was controlling the traffic light at Thompson’s Station Road and Highway 31 during the month of April.

Thompson’s Station Town Administrator Joe Cosentini said that it was an employee from the town’s maintenance department. The town sent him there to control traffic during construction on Critz Lane.

“There was in fact a man in a truck,” he said. “Because we knew there was going to even more volume going through that intersection, we wanted to make sure we had somebody on site that could control it.”

Typically, the light prioritizes traffic moving north and south in the morning. However, Cosentini said that the traffic on Thompson’s Station Lane started backing up as soon as construction started on Critz Lane.

“With that shut off we knew we were going to get more volume at an already congested intersection,” he said. “We wanted to give at least a little thought to the east west traffic as well.”

The control box for the intersection is at the base of the traffic light, in the parking lot of Thompson’s Station Church. The employee ran a cable from the box to a trigger. He sat in his truck and controlled the light with the trigger. He was there in the mornings for about an hour and a half.

He’s not there anymore, though. The town opened the newly built Critz Lane on Monday morning, so it doesn’t need to control traffic at that intersection.

Critz Lane in Thompson’s Station opened on Monday. / Photo by Matt Blois

In the past, Cosentini said the intersection earned the nickname spite light, but he stressed that Thompson’s Station doesn’t use the light to intentionally back up traffic in Spring Hill. He also pointed out that there are plenty of people who drive up Buckner Lane to Thompson’s Station Road from Spring Hill. Posting a maintenance worker at the light likely helped those drivers. He said the decision wasn’t retaliatory, it was just a logistical solution.

“It was simply that we were creating more volume at a particular intersection because of road construction,” he said. “We wanted to try to keep everybody moving at least somewhat reasonably.”

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