Cameras to keep traffic rolling

Tuesday, October 15, 2002

Several feet above the new traffic signals at the intersection of Sprigg and Normal streets -- an entrance to Southeast Missouri State University -- cameras sit atop thin poles, 25 feet above the pavement, for a bird's-eye view down both streets.

Cape Girardeau city officials say these cameras -- the first placed at any intersection by the city -- are not looking to catch motorists disobeying the law. They're to assist in the movement of traffic.

The cameras, or detection devices as the city calls them, will detect vehicles, much like the under-pavement wire loops do at most intersections in the city. The detection devices will tell the controller when a car is stopped at the intersection so it will know when to change.

The cameras are being paid for by the university as part of an agreement with the city to do the traffic-signal project, city engineer Mark Lester said.

The cost of the entire project, including the traffic signals, is $176,188, including $83,550 to be paid by the university. The camera technology will cost $17,000 more than the under-pavement loops, but the cameras can do more. Unlike the conventional under-pavement system, the cameras have a long-range capability of detecting traffic several hundred feet away.

This will come in handy, especially during special events at the Show Me Center, said project manager Abdul Alkadry of the city's engineering department.

"It's all computerized and gives you real-time detection," Alkadry said. "It determines how many cars are out there and sends information to the controller, and it could come up with a timing plan that would allow traffic to flow smoother during special events, mainly. It detects cars in this long zone, and will keep traffic moving in that direction."

He said there are no monitors or recording equipment attached to the cameras. The cameras will be cost-effective to maintain since workers will no longer have to tear up the street to make repairs to traditional sensor equipment.

For this reason, Tim Gramling, assistant public works director, said motorists may see more of these detection devices in the future. However, there is nothing in the city's plans at this point to upgrade.

There is already one such detection device in Cape Girardeau, at the intersection of Route K and Interstate 55, but it was installed and operated by the Missouri Department of Transportation, MoDOT district engineer Stan Johnson said.

Danger deterrent

A quick survey of a handful of Southeast Missouri State University students revealed that there is little or no worry about the perception of government intruding on their privacy.

But all of them seemed happy when they found out the cameras were not going to be used for law enforcement purposes, like they are in many other cities.

"I could care less about the cameras unless they took down my license plate and gave me a ticket," said Christy Holjevic of St. Louis.

Gramling said the cameras could not be used for law enforcement purposes, either now or in the future, because they are stationary. The cameras that are used to catch speeding motorists and red-light violators must move slightly.

However, Kiernan Scrima, a Southeast student from St. Louis who works at Burritoville near the new traffic signal, said the cameras would probably be a deterrent.

"They're doing that to freak everyone out," she said. "That's what everybody thinks they're there for. A lot of people think that yellow means hit the gas and go as fast as you can."

Capt. Carl Kinnison, Cape Girardeau police department, said he agreed with the fact that the cameras might help slow down drivers somewhat.

"They're pretty obvious," he said. "And all over the world, cameras are used for law enforcement, so there will be people out there who believe that's what is happening and so it may affect, in a positive way, their driving behavior."

The traffic signals and cameras will be fully operational in about three weeks, Lester said.

335-6611, extension 127

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