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MailTribune.com
  • Medford traffic cameras aim to ease congestion

    New cameras on Crater Lake Highway are the latest in traffic control technology
  • Highway 62 through Medford is going green.
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  • Highway 62 through Medford is going green.
    A traffic signal makeover has been in the works on the busy main thoroughfare for the last few months, and the city switched on the new system Tuesday.
    The project will mean more green lights for motorists and less time idling below reds, said Corey Crebbin, director of Medford's Public Works Department.
    Using cameras instead of in-ground sensors to detect cars approaching and leaving intersections, the adaptive timing system is the latest in traffic-control technology, he said.
    The cameras have been installed at all eight traffic signals along Highway 62 between Coker Butte Road and Riverside Avenue and at the intersection of North Pacific Highway and Table Rock Road, Crebbin said.
    At this point, the city — which includes the police department — doesn't have the ability to tap into the camera feeds or pull recordings from them, Crebbin said.
    The technology to do so is there, but it comes at an extra cost the city is currently not willing to pay, he said.
    For now, motorists passing by these cameras don't have to worry about Big Brother sending them a ticket in the mail for speeding or running a red light, or police using the footage to follow up on an investigation, said Medford police Lt. Mike Budreau.
    Kansas-based Rhythm Engineering, which developed the adaptive traffic-control system — dubbed Insynch — can tap into the camera feeds, but that's strictly for traffic-management purposes not enforcement, said Alex Georgevitch, Medford's transportation manager.
    Rhythm Engineering crews will be working alongside city employees this week to fine-tune the new system, and Georgevitch is asking motorists to be patient in case any kinks need to be worked out.
    "It will be smoothing itself out over the next several weeks, so we ask for patience during that time. We understand it won't be perfect," Georgevitch said.
    Motorists idling at red lights along the corridor should be alert, he said, because the typical red light wait time could be drastically reduced in some circumstances.
    "With this system that is a little more adaptive, it has the ability to sneak a phase in," he said, meaning that if the cameras don't see any traffic coming, and there is just one vehicle waiting at a red, it can make the real-time adjustment and quickly allow that vehicle through the intersection.
    "The system will work to reduce the delay at the intersections and work to minimize the delay on the entire corridor," he said.
    About 25 of the roughly 110 Medford intersections with traffic lights are outfitted with the cameras, Crebbin said, but the Highway 62 stretch is the first complete corridor to be outfitted.
    And rightfully so, added Georgevitch, as the stretch of highway sees the highest volume of traffic in Southern Oregon outside Interstate 5.
    "Normally, we use copper-wire loops cut into the asphalt to detect vehicles, but there are all types of problems with copper-wire loops," Crebbin said. "If traffic patterns change, the traffic signals don't work as good ... these adaptive timing signals change in real time."
    Without the cameras, which are constantly compiling traffic-flow data and using it to make quick adjustments, engineers have to write signal-timing plans that control when traffic lights turn between green and red, Georgevitch said.
    The timing plans are based on past traffic data, sometimes a year old, and there are typically only a few different plans — written to accommodate traffic volumes at different times of day — assigned to each signal, he said.
    In addition, signal-timing plans are close to impossible to write for corridors during times of road construction, he said.
    "The adaptive timing system is responding to the traffic that is there, but it's also constantly learning about the patterns of the system," Georgevitch said. "When we hit that peak hour, when it's really busy, it can't fix that, but if we can get it to minimize delays leading up to that, then it's going to be much more fluid than anything we write."
    The city in 2011 was awarded a $270,000 federal Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality grant to fund the project, Crebbin said.
    The city matched $30,000 with its own resources to move forward with the project, he said.
    The initial plan was to install the system on Crater Lake Avenue, he said, but the highway seemed like a more worthy location due to its high traffic volume.
    "Depending on the result we get from 62, the city might start trying to do some of this stuff itself," Crebbin said. "What we're tying to do is reduce the minutes you sit at a light."
    Either Crater Lake Avenue or East Barnett Road will likely receive the new technology next, Crebbin said.
    "If they work the way we envision them working, it's going to be great."
    Reach reporter Sam Wheeler at 541-776-4471 or swheeler@mailtribune.com. Follow him at www.twitter.com/swhlr.
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