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Traffic cameras


Recently, the Des Moines City Council approved a license agreement with Principal Financial Group Inc. to install two traffic observation cameras near the top of the 801 Grand building. The Business Record spoke with Mike Ring, the city’s principal traffic engineer, about the purpose of the cameras and how they will tie into the city’s downtown traffic signal project.

Q: What will the cameras allow the traffic department to do?

A: It’s a part of our downtown signal project (in which) a new fiber-optic system is being installed to connect the traffic signals. Most of the underground stuff is in place, and now some of the poles are being put in place. When it’s finished this summer, it will allow us to change the timing of the traffic signals from the office. Right now someone has to physically go out and change the signals. The cameras will give us the view of what’s going on, and we’ll be there at a workstation to be able to make the changes from the same computer. We’ll also have a wall map that will show us whether the signals are working right or not.

Q: Does the city use cameras now at intersections? How will this be an improvement?

A: The first camera was installed on East 14th Street and Euclid Avenue about five years ago as a trial to see how useful it is. Since then, we’ve put in about six or eight more, at strategic intersections like 63rd Street and University Avenue. These two cameras downtown we see as much more important than the ones at the intersections — you can see a lot more of the arterials coming into downtown. With two cameras, we can take care of probably what 100 cameras would do.

Q: What will the benefits of the new fiber-optic system be?

A: There has been synchronization of the (downtown) lights historically, but that system is getting old, and it doesn’t have any flexibility in it. It will be a lot more reliable; we’ll have a lot of timing plans we can put on it. Getting the signals in more visible positions (overhead) will also be an advantage. Where it will really have an impact is that if there’s an accident, we’ll be able to do some changes on the fly. And for any kind of special events, we’ll be able to do more changes as well. It just really opens up a lot of possibilities.

Q: How many lights will be tied into the new fiber optic system? How much will the project cost?

A: The system will control about 120 signals in the downtown area, from the Capitol to the Central Campus area at 18th Street and Grand Avenue. About two-thirds of the city’s 350 traffic signals will be tied in initially, and eventually about 90 percent will be tied in. … The field construction cost is not quite $2 million; the software component will probably be in the $300,000 range.

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