Asignal arm similar to those found at railroad crossings soon will be able to prevent traffic from turning left out of the north side of the Rogue Valley Mall when Highway 62 is congested.
"When the traffic is backed up, we get the phone calls," said Larry Beskow, city engineer.
The city of Medford plans to install a $30,000 camera system in September to monitor traffic at the intersection of Highway 62 and Highway 99, as well as the intersection at the mall.
If the camera indicates the two left-turn lanes on westbound Highway 62 back up to the mall intersection, an employee with the city or the Oregon Department of Transportation could remotely flick a switch to drop the traffic arm.
That would prevent cars from turning west onto the highway, but vehicles would still be allowed to turn east, toward Interstate 5.
Beskow said the signal arm would be dropped only when the highway is congested.
The arm, located at the northern exit of the mall next to the Shell Station, has yet to be activated because a camera wasn't installed to monitor traffic.
When the Oregon Department of Transportation upgraded the old intersection at Highway 62 and Highway 99 in 2001, it initially resisted putting in a left-turn lane for motorists exiting the mall. ODOT didn't like having two intersections so close together, but the mall owners pressed for the left-turn lane, so the compromise was the installation of the signal arm.
However, the camera system was never installed, and traffic volumes declined by 11 percent from 2006 to 2010 because of the recession, said Alex Georgevitch, city transportation manager.
As expected by ODOT, the traffic does sometimes back up from Highway 99 on Highway 62, blocking the mall intersection.
As the economy improves, the city wants to take steps to smooth the traffic flow along Highway 62, which is the second busiest road in the county, trailing only I-5. Georgevitch said he doesn't have recent data to show whether the new Northgate Centre Marketplace has affected traffic at the Highway 99 and Highway 62 intersection, also known as the Big X.
He said recent studies of traffic volumes near Poplar Drive to the east indicate they're still down from the peak in 2006.
To minimize future congestion on Highway 62, the city plans to invest in a traffic control system between Highway 99 and Coker Butte Road that will control traffic signals based on actual traffic levels. Currently the system uses historical data to calculate the duration of red and green lights.
The city is gathering proposals from different companies for the project.
Georgevitch said the city previously had traffic surveillance cameras at Stewart and Barnett roads and at McAndrews and Biddle roads, but the systems were antiquated and have been removed.
Ultimately new technology might make camera systems obsolete, Georgevitch said. Companies such as Google collect real-time data from smartphones that alert motorists to congested traffic areas.
Video from the new surveillance camera at the mall intersection will also be made available to the public through TripCheck.com, ODOT's statewide camera system that is available online.
"Ideally the more people use this, the more we limit peak hour flows," he said.
Georgevitch said he and his wife both use TripCheck when traveling.
The camera systems are also used by emergency providers who are looking for the best route to negotiate through congested areas.
Based on past usage, the peak traffic times along Highway 62 are from 7 to 9 a.m, 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. and 4 to 6 p.m.
Gary Leaming, spokesman for ODOT, said the state and the city have developed an agreement to allow the installation of the camera along the highway near the mall entrance.
He said Salem has several traffic cameras that are available for viewing through TripCheck, and ODOT would welcome adding the Medford camera.
"We would be open to that," he said.
Reach reporter Damian Mann at 541-776-4476 or firstname.lastname@example.org.