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I can speak to your points with a fair amount of knowledge actually, as I have worked in the Traffic Ops section of my state’s DOT and even the electrical research division, with light controllers and census detectors.
>whatever underground piping is in use can surely be replaced by sealed pvc
Not really; PVC has less than 140 PSI maximum operating pressure in a 12″ main, is prone to cracking during earthquakes, is highly flammable (PVC is literally used for amateur rocket fuel when coupled with an oxidizer), is prone to cracking under freezing temperatures, is UV sensitive (cannot be stored outside for long periods of time, unlike metal/concrete pipe), and can contaminate drinking water and other materials it carries with VOCs (volatile organic compounds). Engineers don’t sit around bored and try to come up with the most ridiculous, bullshit solution to a problem just for shits and giggles. Construction standards are set in place by local, regional, state, and federal mandates and they weren’t just thought up while buzzed off a few beers snuck in at lunch.
>There is no reason for a controller box to contain sophisticated equipment like they do.
I’d love for you to explain to me what is “sophisticated” about a traffic controller. The McCain controller used by Caltrans as a standard controller throughout the state uses a Motorola 6800 processor as a controller; no, I didn’t mean a 68000, I mean a 6800. That’s a chip that started production in 1974. The box requires such a strong level of C programming that only a few people in the state *really* know what’s going on inside of it. But we still use them because they’re workhorses, and vetted, and dependable. I’ll get to these points later.
>The reason they do is because the people who design them seem to go with the piss-poor electrical engineering paradigm of “put together generic devices until you have something that works”.
Please provide your evidence for knowing how this worked. I guarantee you pulled it out of your ass because that’s an absolute load of horseshit. In CA we have a state standard, signed off by a Professional Engineer, that is used as a standard plan for every electrical installation in the state. If the plan was half-assed and not well thought out, that P.E.’s license would be on the line, the state’s controllers would be unreliable and in shambles, and we’d have insurmountable traffic problems every day on state routes because of electrical failures. We don’t, and that very fact is testament to fully deny your assumption that these boxes are just thrown together with no forethought.
> You could slash the cost of the box in a tenth by hiring one guy with a little expertise in digital electronics
So you’re willing to put your entire state’s traffic control on the line of some guy with “a little experience”? Enjoy being the singled out person in charge of dealing with all the tort lawsuits because some signal had a bug, caused a fatal car accident, and you’re facing involuntary manslaughter charges. You wouldn’t be facing those charges if you had, say, a licensed and experienced P.E. come up with a standard plan for the whole state, so if anything did happen the State would be responsible, not you or your idea of an independent contractor.
> The board must have a service port to configure it and software can be written for quick intuitive configuration.
Oh, so now you want to broaden the scope of your guy with a little experience to now come up with a controller that has a custom interface for “quick and intuitive” operation? That will require an OS to be designed, a development workstation to be designed, unit and integration testing, and then deployment, plus someone who is either willing to travel throughout the State to deal with maintenance and failures, or training enough people to allow each area of the State to have someone on call, for when the inevitable happens. Have you ever seen a traffic light blinking red? That means the controller crashed and it needs to be reset. Every time that happens throughout the State, you’re going to need to have a technician come out and fix it, someone with enough experience to know the system and get it working, on call 24/7/365. This plan for you to cheapen things up seems to be getting a little more expensive…but let’s go on.
>The relay network would have to be designed per-light but this task could be done by a computer as well.
So now you want to custom design each controller for EVERY CONTROLLER in the State? And somehow, a magical computer is going to do this for you? So now you have to unit and integration test every controller for every possible contingency before it’s vetted enough to be put to use in the State, and when it fails you can prove that it wasn’t just some random bug your guy with “a little experience” didn’t see, or some bug your magical designer computer had? And you want to put the safety of the public, and your tort lawyers on guard against that? I’m thinking your job and experience doesn’t involve a product that goes to public market that if it malfunctioned, could bring tort cases if you’re lucky and manslaughter cases if you weren’t so lucky. And don’t think I’m being extreme; every quarter or so Caltrans puts out a Tort case newsletter, examining the various lawsuits filed against the State for negligent construction site safety or road design, etc. It’s a continuous process.
> You could probably pay one engineer per state in the U.S. to do that job about 40k yearly
You clearly do not understand engineer salaries. Electrical engineers *start* at $60K+, more based on where you live. Absolutely NO ONE is going to put themselves at risk for designing traffic controllers for $40-fucking-thousand a year, you are nuts.
>The PSU for such a unit would be no larger than your typical brick since the lights could run directly on mains power
Sure, if it was in a shirt sleeve environment without freeze/thaw cycles and extreme heat and cold. Traffic controllers have to endure the freezing temps of Sierra Nevada passes, and the baking Death Valley; many of them will be that cold in the winter, and that warm in the summer. That’s beyond industrial level hardiness, that’s military grade weather temps right there.
> Lamp cables could be connected to relays with PowerCon connectors.
Great, so now any dipshit that wants to steal the copper since it’s apparently not in a conduit can shock himself, and if he doesn’t die, sue the State for not protecting him from AC mains. Or some dumb fucking kids who didn’t know better. Plus, powerCON connectors are NOT designed for connections that are meant to stand up to aforementioned temp and weather conditions. The minimum connector that could withstand such punishment would probably be a MIL_DTL-38999 or -26482, but here in the real world we make those connection in conduit so that the public is protected and our cables are protected.
>Take a look at this picture and tell me there isn’t sophisticated equipment here that could easily be replaced by something with the power of a handheld calculator.
Dude, *you don’t even know what you’re looking at!* Sophisticated?! There’s a basic user control panel at the top, below that is a controller with an 8 line LCD display with a hex keypad, a secondary controller box, then a big connection panel, the light controllers, and then an AC mains circuit breaker and a line conditioner. THAT’S IT!!! How the fuck is an 8 line LCD display and “knobs” fucking sophisticated?! If you opened up the box and saw a bunch of blade servers and a NAS that’s one thing, fucking a, man, you really don’t know just so unbelievably simple this box really is. How is that connection panel so ridiculous to you? Do you even know how many connections there can be for one intersection? At a four lane stop with controlled left turns, I just counted at a well known intersection that I happen to know is a State route and there are nearly **70** inputs and outputs; how else would you manually hook all those up? That includes street lamps, lighted signs, census loops for traffic detection, signals, crosswalk buttons, and crosswalk indicators. Many intersections use cameras for traffic detection, how do you think those systems work? That’s an honest to God computer running, with a “sophisticated screen” so that technicians can work on it.
What I can tell you is this: engineers aren’t here to think up the most ridiculous way to solve a problem. We work hard to make things work, and the vast majority of us take personal pride in that. If there was a cheaper, better way to do things, don’t you think we’d be just as interested as you? What crazy world do you think practicing engineers live in where we have no interest in clever, useful solutions that are simple to implement and are as maintenance free as possible? Don’t you think engineers who work for the State are also tax payers and don’t like seeing their money wasted? Don’t you think we’d jump on any chance to make things better? How can you elevate yourself so high above an entire workforce, nay, an entire industry?