Cameras to keep eye on Ga. 20 traffic

LAWRENCEVILLE - When you shake your fist at the sky while stewing in traffic on Ga. Highway 20, somebody will be watching.

In an effort to better manage traffic, the county will install closed-circuit television cameras along Ga. 20 between Lawrenceville and Interstate 985 in Buford.

Fiber-optic cable buried beside the road will link the pole-mounted cameras to a traffic control center at the Gwinnett Justice and Administration Center in Lawrenceville.

From there, county workers can remotely change the timing on traffic signals along road corridors.

The county plans to put fiber-optic cable and cameras along other heavily traveled roads in coming years, including Jimmy Carter Boulevard, Peachtree Industrial Boulevard and Old Norcross Road, said Kim Conroy, operations manager at the Gwinnett Department of Transportation.

"Hopefully in the next few years we will have most routes in the county connected," Conroy said.

While the cameras will initially only be used to monitor traffic so traffic signals can be changed after a major accident, the county hopes to eventually put the live footage on the county's Web site or television station.

That way motorists can check driving conditions before leaving their homes or offices, Conroy said.

Conroy said traffic lights will only be changed if an accident causes a major traffic disruption - for instance, if a wreck on I-985 diverts traffic onto Ga. 20.

Traffic signals will not be altered for smaller traffic jams because they are already programmed to operate as efficiently as possible in those situations, Conroy said.

The same goes for Christmas shoppers at the Mall of Georgia. The county already has a special timing plan that is put in place each year, but it does little good because the holiday rush has become so great, Conroy said.

A contractor will erect the cameras and bury the fiber-optic line along Ga. 20 in coming months.

The work, which is expected to cost about $1.7 million, should be finished by late 2006, Conroy said.

It is being funded with federal dollars and money from the Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax.

The state Department of Transportation already has cameras in place along the interstates that cut through metro Atlanta, including Interstate 85 and I-985 in Gwinnett County.

The cameras hook into a traffic management center in Atlanta, where workers monitor traffic conditions and can dispatch help when a wreck occurs or a vehicle breaks down.

The state began putting the technology in place before the Olympics in 1996 and has continued adding to it.

"Our cameras help us to detect accidents before they become huge boondoggles," said Monica Luck, spokeswoman at the state Transportation Management Center.

The state also has more than 1,400 cameras that plug into the electronic message boards straddling the freeways. Those cameras detect speeds and are able to calculate travel times, which are posted on the message boards, Luck said.

Plans call for the state to put more traffic technology on Ga. 316 sometime in the future, Luck said.

The county already has cameras in place on U.S. Highway 78 (Stone Mountain Highway) and a southern stretch of Peachtree Industrial Boulevard.

It will pursue additional federal funds to pay for future upgrades to its "intelligent transportation system," Conroy said.

Plans also call for the county to build a free-standing transportation management center on Winder Highway.