By Ashley Rowland
Traffic cameras that will let drivers monitor road conditions on the Internet are expected to begin working by the end of October, according to Tennessee Department of Transportation spokeswoman Jennifer Osborne.
The $3.8 million project is part of TDOT's SmartWay program, which gives transportation and rescue workers live images of traffic to help coordinate their responses to crashes.
"It will help us get to a crash and plan how to manage it before we even get there," Ms. Osborne said.
The 63 cameras are located in one-mile increments along Interstate 75, Highway 153, I-24 and U.S. 27 beginning near downtown Chattanooga and stretching to the Georgia state line, Signal Mountain Boulevard, White Oak Mountain and Boy Scout Road. The department will post an updated image from each camera on the Internet every minute after the system begins operating.
Chattanooga is the last major city in the state to get the cameras.
Ms. Osborne said the cameras will not record images and will be used only to relieve traffic congestion, not to catch people speeding.
Some cameras are limited in how far they can tilt or swerve, especially those near subdivisions and the Chattanooga Housing Authority, to ensure privacy, she said.
"It's probably better if we put limits on that if for no reason (other) than to reassure the public that we're not going to look into your living room," said Bob VanHorn, TDOT's operations manager in the Chattanooga area.
Travis Brickey, TDOT's spokesman in Knoxville, said the cameras and message boards that post information about travel conditions have helped reduce backups and secondary crashes in Knoxville since they began working in May 2005. The cameras let drivers know which areas to avoid. The cameras also let TDOT's HELP trucks know where they need to go, instead of relying on sometimes incorrect information from drivers calling from wireless phones, he said.
"Basically, we can see every inch of the interstate system," Mr. Brickey said. "It gives you the ability to see what's going on out there and quickly react."
Construction in Chattanooga on similar message boards will begin in 2008 and should last from 18 months to two years, Ms. Osborne said.
Meanwhile, TDOT will begin construction on a new Traffic Management Center at Enterprise South. Images from the cameras eventually will be monitored at the new center, which should be completed in 2009, she said.
The cameras are part of the transportation department's move toward "intelligent transportation systems," which emphasizes using technology instead of more roads to ease traffic congestion.
"You can't build your way out of congestion," Ms. Osborne said. "You have to be making what you have better."
Installing TDOT's SmartWay cameras costs about $500,000 per mile, compared to $2.5 million per mile to build a new lane of roadway, according to TDOT's Web site.
Other new or upcoming intelligent transportation systems projects in the Chattanooga area include:
* 511, a statewide voice-activated system that gives callers current travel conditions. The system was launched in August.
* An upgraded fog-warning system on I-75 near the site of a 99-car pileup in 1990 that killed 11 people.
David Stansell, president of ITS Tennessee and head of Stansell Electric in Nashville, said Tennessee is about average in how aggressively it is pursuing intelligent transportation systems projects compared to other states.
"I think the current administration is really interested in it," he said. "It has the promise of increasing traffic flow without adding lanes, which is a really popular notion."
Some area drivers said the cameras are a good idea.
"If it's going to help traffic speed up, I'm all for it," said Howard Runyon, 43, who works downtown and lives in East Ridge.
Andrea Hamby, 23, lives and works downtown but said she would check traffic online before driving to visit her parents in Cleveland, Tenn., or outside downtown.
"I still have to make dinner reservations sometimes," she said. "I still need to be on time to places."
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