Caltrans watching South Lake around the clock
December 3, 2003
A video camera positioned on a traffic pole at Ski Run Boulevard and Highway 50 will allow Caltrans to spot problems before they grow into bigger ones.
The camera is one of three expected to be installed on the South Shore. They will provide travelers with road information via live Internet feeds. But more important, they will allow Caltrans to quickly locate and address accidents, spills, traffic signal outages and congestion.
Caltrans has cameras installed throughout the state. It monitors the Ski Run camera at its Traffic Management Center in Rancho Cordova, where the California Highway Patrol also has a dispatch center. If a big rig stalls or an accident occurs, Caltrans lets the CHP know about it, said Brian Simi, senior electrical engineer at Caltrans.
The cameras are not set to record and are not used to enforce traffic laws. Each one costs about $10,000 to buy and install. A live feed is posted at the Caltrans Web site, http://www.dot.ca.gov. It must be viewed with the appropriate software, which can be downloaded for free.
Another camera could be installed soon at the state agricultural station in Meyers. Whether it goes in this winter will depend on how much it snows, Simi said.
The third camera could be installed at the “Y” next summer. It is slated to be part of a redesign of the intersection. The $900,000 project is tentatively scheduled to begin in May, with work done at night Monday through Thursday, said Stephen Peck, principal engineer for South Lake Tahoe.
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Dick Powers, executive director of the South Shore Transportation Management Association, first approached Caltrans about installing the cameras while researching the idea of creating a linked public transit system at South Shore.
The Tahoe Regional Planning Agency eventually assumed control of the project, which turned into BlueGo, the computer-assisted transit system in use today.
The more than 30 computer kiosks installed throughout South Shore as part of BlueGo will provide public access to the Caltrans Web site and the Ski Run camera. Right now, however, the kiosks are off-line so they can be redesigned. They are expected to be back early next year.
“The objective in the beginning was to provide travelers, probably more departing travelers, some information to enable them to make an educated decision when they wanted to leave the area,” Powers said. “A visitor’s last impression of this basin, getting stuck in a traffic jam, is not a positive one.”
The video cameras are not the sole answer to solving the congestion problems, but they are a start, Powers said. More cameras may be installed by Caltrans along Highway 50 between Echo Summit and Placerville. Ideally, visitors could be provided with estimated travel times depending on when they decide to leave town, Powers said.
Businesses at South Shore could also play a part by offering deals to entice visitors to leave later in the day.
“With those kinds of incentives we might be able to (prevent) everyone from hitting that door at the same time, which would mean not such a nasty departure,” Powers said.
In addition to the Ski Run camera, which went up two weeks ago, Caltrans has also added instant chain control information to its Web site, which is updated by dispatchers. It can be found at http://www.dot.ca.gov/dist3/departments/mtce/controlmp.htm.
– Gregory Crofton can be reached at (530) 542-8045 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org