Upgrades will allow drivers to check traffic images online

May 11, 2010

By Warren Kagarise

The next time snow blankets Issaquah — and snarls traffic — drivers might be able to check the municipal website for real-time updates from cameras perched throughout the city.

Officials plan to include the traffic images on the city website within the next several months. The cameras — part of the Intelligent Transportation System — allow engineers to monitor traffic at 26 intersections citywide.

The technology does not allow for streaming video to be posted online. Instead, the images will be a series of photos updated every minute or so.

The city also plans to post real-time traffic alerts to the municipal website and the electronic message boards constructed as part of the system.

Officials hope drivers check the camera feeds and alerts — either from home computers, smart phones or other devices — to gauge traffic before taking to city streets.

The planned upgrades reached the City Council last month. Members agreed to spend $84,000 to post the traffic snapshots online, add monitors for the feeds at the Issaquah Police Department and improve the traffic signal-timing plans through important corridors. The equipment and software to add the real-time images to the city website carries a $49,000 price tag.

City Public Works Engineering Director Bob Brock said the city received numerous requests from drivers to make real-time traffic images available. He said he hopes to complete the upgrades by late fall.

In November 2004, Issaquah voters approved a $3.63 million bond measure to fund the Intelligent Transportation System. The project later received state and federal grants; the infusion freed up city bond dollars for additional improvements to the network.

Fay Schafi, the city traffic signal operations engineer, monitors the cameras from a center at City Hall Northwest. Schafi said the camera feeds should be similar to the real-time traffic data offered online by the King County and state departments of transportation.

“This is something that citizens can really put their hands on, and I think it will help citizens understand what the city is doing about traffic,” Councilman Tola Marts said during the April 5 council meeting, before the council OK’d the upgrades.

In a separate project, crews will also add cameras along the Interstate 90 Undercrossing, a road link from Northwest Gilman Boulevard to Southeast 56th Street. Construction started on the undercrossing last week.

Besides the cameras, the Intelligent Transportation System links the network of traffic signals throughout Issaquah to smooth traffic flow. The timing can also be adjusted to account for accidents, construction or inclement weather.

The planned enhancements include better-coordinated signal timing along Issaquah-Fall City Road, East Lake Sammamish Parkway and Front Street.

“Out of all the things that we could do to improve traffic flow around the city and improve safety issues, this is definitely one at the top of the list,” Councilman Joshua Schaer said.

City Council members supported the Intelligent Transportation System enhancements, but Councilman Mark Mullet dissented.

“I have no fundamental opposition to installing a system to let our citizens see the real-time traffic snapshots, I’m just opposed to the timing of the request, given our tight budget situation,” he said.

Councilman Fred Butler said the upgrades should improve the quality of services the city provides to residents.

“I understand my colleagues are concerned about the budget, but a fairly large percentage of our citizens — when we surveyed them on what enhancements they would like to see — felt that this would be something that was important to them,” he said.

Warren Kagarise: 392-6434, ext. 234, or wkagarise@isspress.com. Comment at www.issaquahpress.com.

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