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    Latest traffic tool: video cameras

    The cameras being tested in East Lake detect traffic waiting at intersections, signaling the traffic light to change.

    By ROBERT FARLEY

    © St. Petersburg Times, published October 19, 2000


    No, that video camera perched atop the traffic light on East Lake Road is not Big Brother checking for drivers who run red lights.

    It's actually designed to detect cars waiting at the intersection to facilitate smoother traffic flow.

    The county is testing the video cameras at two sites in East Lake. Provided they work as anticipated, drivers should expect to see them popping up at intersections all over the county.

    The video cameras are designed to replace the pavement sensors that have been used at intersections with traffic signals for decades. Pavement sensors, which look like rectangular cuts in the road, can alter a traffic light's timing automatically based on the number of cars it detects.

    The video cameras work the same way, said John Amiro, traffic operations manager for the county. The difference, he said, is that while pavement sensors need to be torn up and replaced during road construction projects, video cameras can continue to operate even during construction.

    Pavement sensors can also be high-maintenance, said Ken Jacobs, manager of the county's traffic engineering division.

    "We have to go out and fix them quite often," Jacobs said.

    Sometimes they have to be replaced because of road construction, but the sensors also fall victim to wear and tear and rain damage. And sometimes, the pavement gets so hot the asphalt shifts and wires are damaged or separated.

    The video cameras have been popular for years in Europe, Amiro said. County workers will monitor the two cameras in East Lake for several months to determine whether to use them elsewhere. The two test sites are on East Lake Road at East Lake Woodlands Parkway, and on East Lake Business Route at East Lake Woodlands Parkway just north of Target.

    The cameras could be of great benefit during major road construction projects, Amiro said, such as the planned resurfacing of U.S. 19.

    "With the video, we can mill and resurface the road and it's working the whole time," he said.

    The cost of the video cameras is about $26,000 per intersection. That's higher than the cost of pavement sensors -- which can run up to $16,000 per intersection -- but Amiro thinks lower maintenance costs will make the cameras more cost-efficient.

    The cameras are even capable of sensing cars in the dark, Amiro said.

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