By Gerhard Schneibel
gerhard@reporternewspapers.net

When Sandy Springs traffic services superintendent Chris Waters goes to work in the morning, he unlocks the city’s new traffic management center by pressing his thumb against a digital fingerprint reader.

Once inside, he’s behind the controls of a fiber-optic network that connects the city’s 121 intersections.

A voice command of “cause: move to east” is enough to set a camera at the intersection of Roswell and Dalrymple roads into motion. What the camera sees is displayed in real time on one of the center’s two 90-inch rear-projection screens or four 42-inch liquid-crystal-display screens.

Upgrading the traffic signal network for the city is a constant work in progress, but once the center is completely operational, Waters will work in it on a full-time basis.

“What my job in here is going to be is to actually be here most of the time and watch what’s going on in the city. I’ll also be involved in overseeing the fiber installations in the field,” he said.

Traffic services manager Jeff Messer said the new technology will help streamline traffic throughout the city. If an accident blocked Georgia 400, for instance, traffic engineers could immediately enact an emergency program doubling the time that traffic signals on Roswell Road stay green.

Not only will the system give traffic engineers the capability to immediately react to a changing situation, but it also will help them get information out through the city’s Web site and on the message boards planned to be installed throughout the city.

At traffic.sandyspringsga.org, citizens can see current traffic conditions on a Google map. They also can view what the cameras are seeing and even control them in real time to a limited degree.

“There are 98,000 people in the city. That’s 98,000 other people, if they’ve got Internet, they can help us watch the city,” Messer said.

Traffic engineers can turn off the cameras when accidents happen. When they do so, citizens using the system from the Internet will see the camera icon replaced with an incident report icon.

“We don’t want to put anything out there that can be damaging,” Messer said.

What the system’s cameras see can be recorded, although that’s not being done at the moment. Messer said that storing even 24 hours’ worth of footage would mean terabytes worth of information.

And while the primary purpose of the center is traffic management, there has been some talk about coordinating with emergency services, he said.

In this first budget year of its operation, about $1 million was allocated for the center, Messer said.

An $852,000 Georgia Department of Transportation grant will be used to buy 61 state-of-the-art traffic signal cabinets to be placed at key intersections. Twenty-nine cabinets the city already owns that are about a year old — new enough to work on the fiber-optic network — will be used to replace cabinets as old as 20 years.

The newest cabinets have expansion ports and room for battery backups and camera equipment.

“We’re standardizing the equipment,” Messer said. “They’re totally expandable. From this point on, it kind of opens it up to us.”

The contract for work on the system and center was awarded to a joint venture between Charlotte, N.C.-based ProTronix and Tallahassee, Fla.-based Genesis Group.

Waters said the center will help city engineers be “a lot more efficient in doing signal timing.”

“We can get a lot more done in a shorter period of time and be more proficient about what we do,” he said.

And what about moving the center from the Morgan Falls Office Park if City Hall moves to the old Target site?

“I’d give it a month and a little bit of money,” Messer said.