ST. CHARLES COUNTY, Mo. — St. Charles County is spending $800,000 on a new system to control intersection lights to make travel faster and safer for emergency vehicles.

The lion’s share of the $800,000, or 80 percent, will be federal funds. The remaining $200,000 is coming from a special transportation tax approved by voters.

St. Charles County Executive Steve Ehlmann is behind the new system.

“What we have done is basically connect most of the traffic signals in St. Charles County,” said Ehlmann. “And that’s what’s different about this is that it’s a county-wide project. As far as we know, this is the first time in Missouri that we’ve had it done on a county-wide basis.”

The Emergency Vehicle Priority System is being set up under the Gate Green Light Network that coordinates the traffic signals in St. Charles County. So far, 195 traffic signals have been linked and a total of 351 lights will be linked when the project is complete.

Devices are installed in emergency vehicles like police cars, fire trucks, and ambulances.

St. Charles County Police Chief Kurt Frisz explained how it works: “It will turn the lights green for the oncoming traffic for the emergency vehicle to proceed through. The cross-traffic will turn red, so they got to stop for the normal cycle of lights. So they will cycle their lights for cross traffic to red. The oncoming traffic will go green for the emergency vehicles.”

Another area fire district has been using a similar system for decades. The Metro West Fire Protection District has the system installed at 43 intersections like those on Manchester Road.

“We’ve had the Opticom system in our district for over 20 years,’ said Metro West Deputy Chief Mike Digman. “It works tremendously well helping us get through intersections and keeping traffic moving so that it doesn’t cause a delay in our response. I think it’s a great idea.”

He believes St. Charles County will love it too.

“I think that they’re going to find that their travel time for emergencies is reduced,” said Digman. “I think citizens are going to find that it’s safer for the emergency equipment to move up and down the roadway.”

St. Charles County officials said they expect their system to be fully operational by the end of the year.