ODOT using cameras to monitor traffic

By Jane Stebbins, Pilot staff writer April 27, 2013 12:26 am

Those big black boxes on the light signal poles along Chetco Avenue? And Railroad Street?

They’re cameras. And they’re watching your every move.

“Probably security cameras for those businesses,” a citizen wrote on social media. “Or they could be for the upcoming Azalea Festival, since it is recorded.”

“Don’t be fooled,” another wrote. “They have ODOT stickers on them. (They’re) just running all of your plates and saving it all in a data place. Will probably send red flags to the local police if vehicles aren’t registered or have non-matching plates. I ASSURE you they are there to generate revenue for the state, county, and/or city or else they wouldn’t be up.”

Not quite.

The city of Brookings has applied for a $2.5 million grant to make major improvements along Railroad Street – and ODOT officials need to know which traffic flows work and which don’t before they can make recommendations to make Railroad Street a viable bypass to Chetco Avenue, said ODOT transportation director John McDonald.

“It’s (the film) not something we turn over to law enforcement or anything,” he said with a laugh. “It’s no Agenda 21 or something like that. Your readers will be so disappointed.”

Thirty-six cameras were installed – at night, after the newspaper went to press, some callers to the Pilot noted – along Chetco Avenue and Railroad Street to count cars, semis, bikes and pedestrians.

Instead of laying hoses at intersections to count through-traffic, the cameras film the direction traffic takes.

“We used to have people sitting out in cars counting traffic,” said ODOT traffic counter Craig Senger. “But a drunk driver hit someone in Bend. Another (citizen) thought they (the counter) was suicidal, sitting there with the car running for hours. And how many cars are you going to miss because you need to use the bathroom? But I know. It looks suspicious.”

The video, which depending on the location will tape traffic from noon to 6 p.m. each day for the next week or so, will be viewed by engineers and manually tabulated to determine problem areas so the best traffic plan can be designed for the area.

“Yeah, the technology doesn’t exist yet to determine what’s a truck, what’s a semi, what’s a bread truck,” McDonald said. “So people watch the video and count the trucks and bikes.”

It’s part of Brookings’ plans to make Chetco Avenue safer, reroute bicycle traffic through town as part of a tourism strategy and provide information for long-range transportation and land-use planning.

Reconstruction of Railroad Avenue will include widening the street to include a center lane for turning and left-turn movements and creating a bicycle and pedestrian path on the south side and a sidewalk on the north. The intersection of Oak and Railroad streets will be redesigned as a roundabout, ditches will be filled in and parking might have to be reconfigured in some areas.

No new stop signs or signals are expected to be needed, said City Manager Gary Milliman, and construction is hoped to be done in 2016.

“We have a really wide right-of-way through there,” said City Manager Gary Milliman. “It may change some parking from head-in to parallel.”

In this month’s study, ODOT will also film the intersection of Highway 101 and Parkville Drive, where traffic is expected to increase over the next 20 years as economic development activity gets underway at the Brookings Airport, McDonald said.

The work is a compromise for Brookings voters who in 2005 rejected a project for a “couplet,” a traffic pattern that would have placed southbound Highway 101 traffic on Railroad Street and kept northbound vehicles on Chetco Avenue. ODOT spent more than $1 million developing the couplet plan and several alternatives.

After more than two years of discussions, ODOT no longer had funding for such projects.

McDonald wasn’t sure how much this in-house study costs, but said if ODOT had subcontracted the work, it would have cost $500 to $1,000 per camera to install, film and remove the device – likely, in the middle of the night, Senger said, jokingly.

“Ah, yes, Big Brother,” he said. “I ask people, ‘Do I look like Big Brother?’ I’m just doing my job. It’s just traffic patterns.”