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Company’s Traffic System Rides to the Rescue of Commuters

MCCAIN INC.

CEO: Jeffrey L. McCain.

Revenue: $80 million — 2010; projected 20 percent increase in 2011.

No. of local employees: 130.

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Investors: Privately held.

Headquarters: Vista.

Year founded: 1987.

Company description: Builds and sells traffic lights and adaptive traffic systems.

McCain Inc., a privately held concern that builds and sells traffic lights, has given a new twist to the term “going green.”

In early 2010, Vista-based McCain finished a three-year installation of an “adaptive traffic system,” linking signals at 17 major intersections along a 3.6-mile stretch of San Marcos Boulevard in San Marcos, North County’s busiest commute corridor.

Up to 46,000 motorists drive the route daily.

One year later, the results for the so-called “Smart Corridor” project are impressive, based on data collected by Encinitas traffic consultant Jason Stack.

He says delays have been reduced by up to 46 percent, with an average fuel reduction of 8 percent.

Stack drives a portion of the thoroughfare when he’s in San Marcos for business, and he says the easing of congestion is very noticeable.

“It’s a significantly different corridor to drive,” he said. “The difference in time is impressive.”

Automatic Savings

Aaron Blumenkranz, assistant to Chief Executive Officer Jeffrey McCain, says cities are just now beginning to realize the importance of automating traffic systems as fuel costs go higher and more and more autos fight for a limited amount of roadway.

“It’s definitely the wave of the future as communities look for better ways to support the increased demand on the roads and highways caused by more traffic,” he said.

The population of San Marcos doubled in the last decade to 83,000, putting a strain on existing infrastructure.

“The question is how do you do more with less, and how do you make the streets smarter?” Blumenkranz asked. “In a nutshell that is what our adaptive system does.”

The San Marcos system automatically adjusts the timing of each signal to generate fewer stops for motorists, which in turn helps them have a “better driving experience,” Blumenkranz said.

The system works by detecting the amount of traffic, running the data through a computer system linking the signals and fine tuning the system to deal with congestion levels.

Blumenkranz says studies found motorist stops decreased 39 percent, based on data taken before and after a system was installed. He says those studies show drive times dropped an average of 20 percent.

The $670,000 installation was financed by a Federal Highway Administration program designed to reduce commute times. Eventually, the U.S. agency hopes to find enough money to finance 200 such installations nationwide.

San Marcos Traffic Director Omar Dayani says the system is going to save up to $4 million through less fuel consumption, less air pollution and less wasted time for drivers.

He says the project is one of a half dozen involving the synchronizing of traffic signals along the city’s most congested corridors.

City Lights

Meanwhile, McCain is installing a similar adaptive system in Oceanside and Temecula, says Blumenkranz, and McCain is in talks with a number of cities in California. He declined to name the cities while negotiations are in progress.

Temecula is using $500,000 in state transportation funds to finance the installation of the adaptive system on the major routes within the city limits.

McCain has built and sold more than 5.6 million traffic signals over its quarter century in business, says Blumenkranz.

Meanwhile, he says the company is also moving into smart parking, which uses sensors embedded in streets to detect parking spots. The information is sent to drivers’ smart phones.

Tom York is a contributing editor for the San Diego Business Journal.

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