JACKSON — Mississippi Department of Transportation cameras in the metro Jackson area have been helpful for those traveling the area, and more are on the way soon.
The cameras are hooked up to an Internet Web site — www.gomdot.com — which is available to the general public. In June alone, there were 17,000 visitor sessions to the site, said MDOT chief technology officer John Simpson.
“If we can even incrementally improve that (people sitting in traffic) it definitely pays for itself.”
Simpson suspects it will take anywhere from two to four years for the general public and the media to develop a reliance on the cameras. Right now he and other MDOT officials are merely trying to raise awareness about the Web site.
“I suspect within the next year we’ll move down to the Coast and into northern Mississippi,” he said. “That should happen within the next year.”
The more immediate sites MDOT will be bringing up include one near the Metro Center Mall so that there will be a good view of I-220 and I-20 and another at I-55 and I-20. Simpson said those views should be added within the next few months.
The 16 metro area MDOT cameras show 21 different views of seven different locations. They have the capability to do video streaming for different media outlets but right now they only give images that refresh every 20 seconds.
It is important that the cameras are up around town because, Simpson said, information can more easily be given to the public and the media.
The cost of the new technology is approximately $220,000, and the life span of the cameras varies. Fixed cameras could last as long as 10 years. Cameras that tilt, pan and zoom may not last more than two to three years because of the moving parts. Funding comes from the state and federal levels.
And although $220,000 may sound like a lot of money to throw at new technology, Simpson said, “$220,000 would probably not build 2/10 of a lane mile on I-55. We have to start using technology to better inform people.”
Simpson said it is important that MDOT use the technology so the public can make more informed traffic decisions.
“There isn’t enough money available to build all the lanes you need,” he said. “Departments of transportation are going to have to start using technology to improve traffic conditions. We just have to figure out ways to move people smarter.”
Amy Hornback, public affairs officer at MDOT, said there has been much success with the Web site thus far.
“A small business owner who might be traveling from south to north Jackson can look on the Internet and go around the area on his delivery truck and save fuel and labor costs and can make their delivery on time,” she said.
Other departments of transportation around the nation use similar technologies so that their citizens can make informed decisions about which roads to take.
“We thought that with there being such a high level of road construction this would be an important project,” she said.
Hornback said the traffic engineering division of MDOT already uses cameras to control traffic with signals. Incorporating the cameras into the new Web site for the public just adds a little more technology to the mix.
“We think we’ll recoup the cost in a year because traffic engineering will use these cameras and the public will save fuel and lost labor hours,” she said.
Bob Rall reports traffic conditions for WLBT-TV, WTYX and WVIV radio stations. He thinks the MDOT cameras are helpful to the public and to the stations he works for.
“If they (the public) hear word of a crash they can pull up that camera,” he said. “It’s just another way to get information.”
Rall said until about a year ago there really was no good process for MDOT to get out information about traffic conditions.
“Now with the cameras, I think it’s very helpful,” he said. “On mornings when we can’t fly I use their regular traffic reports. I think it builds a better awareness of traffic.”
Bob Burks, news assignment editor at WLBT-TV, said the MDOT traffic cameras do not keep people from watching the news.
“We link them (MDOT) on our Web site and invite people to go and check them out through our link, but as far as our coverage it doesn’t change much the way we do things,” he said. “We might pull it up and take a look at it before we send someone out to take a look at the traffic problem, but really that’s the only way it affects us.”
Burks said traffic problems could have a negative effect on many businesses.
“In the ‘80s a bridge washed out on Perkins Road in Memphis in an area that went to a new shopping center,” he said. “During construction when traffic was curtailed a lot of the stores there went out of business. I’m sure older established businesses will find customers, but I think it could be detrimental for someone establishing a business.”
To see how traffic is flowing in Hinds, Madison and Rankin counties, go to www.gomdot.com and click on “Real-time Traffic.”
Contact MBJ staff writer Elizabeth Kirkland at email@example.com or (601) 364-1042.