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Cameras to zoom in on Bruce B. Downs

Desktop watchdogs will be able to observe traffic patterns and adjust signals.

By JOHN BALZ, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published June 9, 2002


NEW TAMPA -- In an effort to unlock gridlock in New Tampa, the city will install three video cameras along Bruce B. Downs Boulevard to monitor traffic patterns.

The cameras mean transportation department employees working in downtown offices will be able to see Bruce B. Downs from their desks. They can then adjust the traffic signals to help speed up the trip.

"Before, we were deaf, dumb and blind," said Mike Scanlon, a city traffic design engineer.

The cameras will also be a tool for emergency vehicles.

Deputy Fire Rescue Chief Terry Jones said New Tampa's two fire stations will have feeds of the video and will use them to preview traffic before heading out on a service call. If necessary, firefighters will be able to change the signal patterns.

Scanlon said he has been thinking about putting cameras up in New Tampa since the city installed them downtown four years ago.

The Tampa City Council approved construction of the system May 30 at a total cost of slightly more than $500,000. Engineers received a $240,000 grant from the federal government. City money will cover the rest.

One of the fiber-optic video cameras will be mounted on Interstate 75 at the Bruce B. Downs exit. The second is likely to be placed at Cross Creek Boulevard, and the third at an intersection in Tampa Palms.

Scanlon submitted paperwork for the permits 18 months ago and admits that he doubted the state would allow the city to put a camera on the interstate, a state road.

"Originally, I never thought this was going to fly," he said.

The cameras will be the first in the New Tampa area. They will be placed atop metal poles, some as high as 180 feet. Engineers will use the Florida Department of Transportation's roadside assistance tower on I-75.

The cameras swivel so that they can see traffic heading north and south. Because city officials will be observing general traffic patterns and not hunting for individual car license plates, three cameras are expected to cover the entire corridor.

Installation is scheduled to begin within 60 days and be completed within four months. Madhi Mansour, an engineer in the city's transportation department, cautioned that the project could take a bit longer.

-- John Balz can be reached at (813) 269-5313 or at balz@sptimes.com.

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