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SigAlert founding honored on a day of slick roads, traffic jams

January 23, 2012 |  4:16 pm


Cajon Pass traffic. It's the anniversary of the SigAlert.

The roads were slick, the sky hazy and the Monday morning commute at its worst when officials gathered in front of the Caltrans building in downtown Los Angeles.

"I can't think of a better day to honor the SigAlert than today," said Doug Failing, executive director of highway projects.

The officials -- led by  Councilman Tom LaBonge -- came together on the 57th anniversary of the SigAlert, an invention that has become central to Southern California's driving culture. (In fact, one of the most searched terms online in Los Angeles happens to be SigAlert.)

The SigAlert is named for its founder, Loyd Sigmon -- a radio engineer who worked for one of Gene Autry's stations -- who discovered a way police dispatchers could trigger an inaudible tone that would alert receivers at radio stations to traffic disruptions. The first transmissions were made this week in 1955. Sigmon died in 2004 at age 95.

A SigAlert now is defined by the California Highway Patrol as an unplanned closure of a lane of traffic for 30 minutes or more -- a term profoundly dreaded by L.A. commuters.

Matthew W. Roth, a historian with the Auto Club of Southern California, said the SigAlert was a bridge between two iconic parts of Southern California cultures: innovations in media and technology and roadways clogged with cars.

The technology enabled broadcasters to provide up-to-the-minute coverage of traffic conditions, allowing motorists the opportunity to cruise down an open road.


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Photo: Labor Day on the Cajon Pass. Credit: Luis Sinco