South Florida man invents device designed to prevent collapsing traffic signals in hurricanes

He hopes to save lives

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- - It is only two feet long and made solely of cast aluminum.

A simple enough recipe for a South Florida man who was able to use the material to invent a device that could save lives during the next major hurricane or tropical storm.

Bob Townsend's invention tackles the collapsing traffic signal problem Palm Beach County has experienced during hurricanes like Wilma.

During the storm, Townsend nearly lost his wife when she blew through an intersection that had lost traffic signals, missing an oncoming car by inches.

"It was upsetting, an emotional moment. One of those things you go, 'boy!'" said Townsend.

From that moment on, Townsend spent years trying to invent a near hurricane-proof traffic light.

"I never thought I couldn't. It just had to work," said Townsend.

With just a few pieces of metal, Townsend, 60, created and patented a device that can withstand 110 mile per hour winds.    

Townsend, a home designer, was able to created a swivel point that connects the traffic light to the connecting cable. The swivel design allows the light to move freely with the wind. Cable designs tend to bounce and crack off according to Townsend.

Townsend and his wife nearly lost their house and everything they own to fund the idea.
"I mean we've been through rough times. We've been married forty years and done the bankruptcy thing. But I guess no risk, no gain," said Townsend.

The payoff though would come when the Florida Department of Transportation caught on to the idea. FDOT is now retrofitting 54 intersections in Palm Beach County and 52 in Broward County.
"Hopefully it'll cut down on all the confusion after a storm comes through," said Andrea Pacini, a spokesperson for the FDOT project.

The project could save the state millions of dollars in repair costs after a storm.

Townsend said he truly only has one desire. "Help people save lives. And that's what we're counting on it doing."

FDOT crews will begin work in Palm Beach County at the end of July.

Project managers estimate it will take a few months to complete updating all 54 intersections with the new device.

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