Greenwood firefighters race against time and battle through traffic at busy intersections on the way to emergencies nearly 6,000 times a year.

They know the busiest intersections to get through, where vehicles back up and they get caught in the traffic jam, knowing they are losing important time that could be needed to save a life. At the same time, they are always trying to prepare for the cars that zip out in front of them because the driver didn’t hear the sirens or see the lights.

Drivers know the feeling of sitting at a red light when emergency vehicles approach, when they have nowhere to go to get out of the way.

By the end of 2018, state-of-the-art technology will be installed at 37 intersections in Greenwood to help eliminate those scenarios, shortening response times and making the routes to the emergencies safer for emergency workers and motorists.

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With the new signals, when firefighters, emergency medics and police officers are headed to an emergency, the GPS system they rely on for directions will notify stoplights on the route, changing the traffic signal and clearing the intersection before the emergency vehicle even approaches. The same system was installed at multiple stoplights in the Center Grove area.

A study done by Greenwood found sight and sound obstructions, along with heavy traffic backups, at 37 Greenwood intersections, which were where officials said the traffic signals were needed.

The intersection of Main Street and Madison Avenue, for example, is a tight turn for fire trucks, and the buildings block cross streets and sound for motorists, said Mark Richards, Greenwood city engineer and director of community development services.

And at U.S. 31 crossings at Fry and Smith Valley roads, stopped traffic across all four lanes blocks emergency vehicles from getting through the light.

With detailed information on the city’s intersections, Richards submitted an application for a grant that would cover 90 percent of the estimated $943,000 cost to install the traffic signal system. The city was approved to receive a grant of $853,000 to install the system.

The project will begin in July 2018 and be completed by the end of that year. By the beginning of 2019, motorists at a light that just turned red will see the signal switch to green before they even hear or see the emergency vehicle coming, and the goal is that those vehicles will pass through the intersection with a green light, Richards said.

Greenwood Fire Chief James Sipes said the technology can’t come soon enough. Getting through intersections quickly and safely has been one of the biggest obstacles on the way to saving a life, he said.

“I can think back on numerous times when we get into busy intersections and traffic doesn’t want to move,” Sipes said. “It becomes a very, very dangerous scenario. We have numerous near-misses.”

The intersections will become safer, but the project doesn’t prevent accidents. Emergency workers will still need to be aware and pay attention to surrounding motorists during runs, Sipes said. 

Greenwood is the second area in the county to adopt the system. In 2014, the White River Township Fire Department spent about $131,000 to install the system at 18 intersections along State Road 135, State Road 37, Morgantown Road and Smith Valley Road.

“(This system) has been around for quite a while,” Greenwood Mayor Mark Myers said. “It’s just good to see that we are moving forward, constantly looking at ways for public safety to be safer, user friendly and more in-tune to what’s going on.”

At a glance

Here is a look at the intersections that will be getting updated traffic signals that change to allow emergency vehicles to pass through:

U.S. 31 and

  • Declaration Drive
  • Worthsville Road
  • Stop 18 Road
  • Apryl Drive
  • Madison Avenue
  • Smith Valley Road
  • Main Street
  • Carr Street
  • Fry Road
  • Loews Boulevard
  • County Line Road

Madison Avenue and

  • Smith Valley Road
  • Main Street
  • Fry Road
  • County Line Road
  • Greenwood Park Mall — east entrance

Meridian Street and

  • Smith Valley Road
  • Main Street
  • County Line Road

Emerson Avenue and

  • Main Street
  • County Line Road
  • Wilson Drive
  • Walmart entrance

Main Street and

  • Sheek Road
  • Interstate 65 ramps — northbound and southbound

Smith Valley Road and

  • Averitt Road
  • Woodman Drive

County Line Road and

  • Shelby Street
  • Community South Drive
  • Greenwood Park Mall entrance
  • Sherman Drive
  • I-65 ramps — northbound and southbound
  • Graham Road

Fry Road and Greenwood Park Mall entrance

State Road 135 and Smokey Row Road

Corey Elliot is a reporter at the Daily Journal. He can be reached at or 317-736-2719.