Trust, but Verify
Michael Irvin on the evolving role of video detection to video surveillance
“Trust, but verify,” President Reagan’s favorite Russian proverb continues to be sound advice we all should embrace – even traffic control managers. Yet how does one verify that signals are transitioning as programmed, that crews are on site, or see traffic and weather conditions in real time?
What comes to mind for most, is video verification. Yet the bandwidth requirements necessary to transmit this detail-rich data is outside of the capacity of most traffic networks, especially wireless networks – or is it?
That question recently came to light in Cranberry Township, a rural community north of Pittsburg, Pennsylvania. Located at the intersection of the Pennsylvania Turnpike and Interstate 79, Cranberry Township claims approximately 30,000 residents, but accounts for an additional 25,000 vehicles carrying workers in and out of the community every day.
“With the road network and traffic, both local and business, traffic operations in Cranberry Township is a unique responsibility,” emphasizes Marty McKinney, Manager of Traffic Operations for the Township. “We have 41 traffic signals, yet we manage 48 as we work with three of our neighbors to maintain and operate traffic signals through the corridors.”
Built off an Econolite central base system, McKinney describes their network as a single mode fiber network with Ethernet-based communication protocols. Two years ago that system was disrupted due to a major road-widening project.
“Actually there were three projects that combined in two construction packages on corridors adjacent to one another,” recalls McKinney. “The problem was the need to sever fiber and rework fiber for one project, and the relocation of other roadways which were not going to allow us to have fiber optic communications for an undetermined interval. Our fiber optic plant needed to be relocated.”
DESIGN, ENGINEER, BUILD
The process of identifying ways to work around the construction upheaval was to openly discuss alternatives with his staff, his suppliers and his vendors. Recalling a conversation with Mike Semchee, Systems Support Specialist for Path Master, Inc, a traffic distributor based in Twinsburg, Ohio. “That’s not a problem. We can overcome that fiber hop with an Intuicom wireless hop.”
“This was my introduction to Intuicom’s portfolio of wireless solutions,” McKinney says. “Mike from Path Master helped me design and engineer a point-to-point radio connection using Intuicom’s BBS-58 (BroadBandSolution – 5.8GHz) industrial-grade, flat panel radios. What we did is build a bridge over the project.”
This bridge, as McKinney describes, served as a redundant communications link that extended two or three intersections in each direction. During the height of construction when a signal was to be isolated, staff installed an additional BBS-58 radio, and for a two-and-a-half year construction interval, they were able to maintain very robust bandwidth with central-based communications.
“We used a video observation platform and monitored our non-invasive detection platform, all simultaneously, and all wirelessly,” exclaims McKinney. “I believe we had seven signals, three cameras, and four or five of those intersections had Ethernet capabilities for multiple devices. We were able to simultaneously maintain all that through the construction interval without a hitch.”
LOOKING BACK AND FORWARD
In hindsight, McKinney notes that this exercise taught him to look at communications in a new light.
“I discovered that when you don’t have fiber provisions at your disposal and you need to communicate, 5.8MHz radios provide an excellent alternative,” McKinney says. “We have a number of Intuicom’s radios currently deployed. Some are point-to-point, some are point-to-multipoint – they extend several of our corridors, enhance traffic management and video observation at these corridors, even though we don’t have fiber optic provisions in those areas.”
In his Traffic Operations Center (TOC), McKinney oversees all the intersections and corridors that he is responsible for. The Township’s TOC is a room where a video matrix display wall comprised of a rack of 55” monitors allow technicians to operators redistribute an enormous amount of information in a unified display. In this manner, Township staff are able to monitor traffic throughout the entire community.
“On our corridors, Intuicom’s radios have functioned perfectly,” McKinney proudly states. “The robustness of their bandwidth and their reliability never cease to amaze me. You cannot distinguish between the wireless video feeds and the fiber connects. There is no visible difference in the quality of the images.”
Traffic Operations Center operators have a variety of verification assets at their command: 20 PTZ cameras (five of them operating through radio links), a multitude of Autoscope video detection cameras, as well as numerous Wavetronics non-invasive detection devices cover all the intersections in their purview. All of this is made viable with an integrated management platform consisting of Econolite Centracs and Genetec solutions.
“Centracs is our operational database for our traffic operations,” says McKinney. “For it to operate, each local intersection must communicate with the server. Therein lies the communications challenge. If we don’t have an operational link, I can’t remotely monitor or operate the signal.”
When asked to clarify how he makes this assembly of disparate devices operate seamlessly, his response is simple, “As long as they have an Ethernet port on board, we assign it an IP address and backhaul it through our radio network, back to fiber, back to central. To me, it’s seamless.” McKinney adds, “I know which intersections are connected by a radio, but you can’t tell by seeing the images in my observation room.”
If people inquire about the upkeep and maintenance of wireless links, McKinney is quick to answer, “What maintenance? There really hasn’t been any.” This is not to say that Cranberry Township has not had some problems to address. “If there has been a problem, it’s because someone didn’t install the radio tight enough and the wind blew it loose and we lost connectivity,” clarifies McKinney. “With Intuicom’s radios, it’s set it and forget it. We have radios that have been up for five years without anyone touching them. Once they are set and communicating, there’s nothing more to do.”
According to a spokesperson at the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT), Cranberry Township has one of the most advanced municipally owned traffic centers in Pennsylvania.
These accolades are music to McKinney’s ears. “We approach traffic technology as something that’s pretty important in our region and our community,” McKinney says. “It’s a major part of our daily operation here in Cranberry. If by sharing our story we can help others elevate the efficiency and functionality of their traffic operation, I welcome that opportunity to share. That is just a part of our culture.”