IDOT cameras to monitor I-57
Daily Southtown | March 11, 2005
By Guy Tridgell
Every turn you make, every time you brake, the Illinois Department of Transportation will be watching you.
In the next few weeks, IDOT will unveil a monitoring system along Interstate 57 that doubles the amount of roadside surveillance cameras used on expressways throughout the Chicago area.
The installation of 34 cameras and traffic sensors — called "sidefire microwave detectors" by IDOT — was finished late last year between Interstate 80 and the Dan Ryan Expressway.
Information collected by the equipment on I-57 eventually will be piped to IDOT's traffic monitoring station in Oak Park. From there, messages about travel times and upcoming delays can be beamed to motorists via over-the-road electronic signs.
Signs in the northbound lanes near 111th Street and I-80 were turned on the past week as part of a test. They will display reminders about wearing seat belts and reporting accidents until all the cameras and sensors are powered and connected to Oak Park this spring.
IDOT spokesman Mike Claffey said similar monitoring devices are on the other expressways. They are just more hidden.
Claffey said sensors to count vehicles usually are built into the roadbed.
But a project to rebuild I-57 in 2002 and 2003 was not extensive enough to plant the sensors in the road. They were added to poles in the median instead.
Claffey said as long as the poles were erected for the sensors, IDOT opted to add the cameras, too.
They are spaced every half mile on I-57.
A set of sensors and a camera cost about $15,000. The federal government pays 90 percent of the bill, Claffey said.
Claffey said IDOT employs about 35 cameras on expressways.
The images help determine what kind of emergency responses are needed if there is an accident.
"What happens if it is a jackknifed tractor-trailer?" Claffey said. "Or is it an overturned car where an ambulance is needed?"
Claffey stressed the cameras will not be used as law enforcement tools. The pictures, he said, are too grainy to decipher the numbers and letters on license plates.
"It is not Big Brother," he said. "It is complex technology, but it's not for issuing traffic tickets."
Footage from the cameras might be shared over the Internet in a few months.
Images from cameras posted on other expressways already can be viewed at www.gcmtravel.com.
"Bottom line: They are a great way to monitor traffic," Claffey said.