Big Brother is watching the Roaring Fork Valley | PostIndependent.com
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Big Brother is watching the Roaring Fork Valley

Greg Masse

Video units have begun popping up along Highway 82, one group appearing outside Glenwood Springs last winter and most recently a set was installed near Carbondale.

And although transportation officials say the new high-tech cameras will be used primarily for traffic control, their capabilities could open the door for other uses down the road.

The newest set of four cameras was installed Wednesday on the traffic signals at the intersection of Highway 133 and Highway 82 near Carbondale.

For now, the cameras will be used as traffic signal actuators, which are triggers that change traffic lights when they sense a vehicle is waiting, said Colorado Department of Transportation spokesman Bob Wilson.

“They are cameras, but not for video,” he said.

But the only reason they can’t be used for video surveillance is because the infrastructure won’t yet allow it. Once the statewide fiber optics system becomes operational, a project being built now, the cameras will have the ability to provide streaming video to CDOT.

Cameras part

of repaving project

The cameras at 133 and 82 were put in as part of the repaving project on Highway 82. The road will be ground up and repaved, so the existing actuators – now located beneath the pavement – will be removed.

“Instead of going in there and losing the ability of the actuators, we’re installing the cameras,” he said.

Colorado Springs has a city-run system of cameras at many intersections. And although they have the ability to provide live feeds of vehicles and drivers, the cameras there are only used to keep tabs on traffic flows rather than for general surveillance, Wilson said.

“They’re more to control traffic as opposed to the Big Brother thing,” he said.

But with cameras come the possibility of photo radar – a method of enforcing traffic laws with cameras rather than officers on the street. And as technology advances, it’s possible they could be used for other purposes, as well.

“It’s conceivable that it could be used as photo radar,” Wilson said.

The set of four cameras at Carbondale’s intersection is the second to be installed in the lower Roaring Fork Valley during the past year. The other is at the western end of County Road 154, at its intersection with Highway 82.

The cameras point down at the spot where motorists wait for the traffic lights to change.

The cameras cost $5,000 apiece, so in all, the two intersections have $40,000 worth of camera equipment installed.

Officials from the Glenwood Springs Police Department and the Colorado State Patrol said they are opposed to photo radar.

“With respect to just cameras, it serves a public service interest,” Glenwood Springs police Lt. Lou Vallario said. But if cameras were slated to be used for photo radar in Glenwood Springs, Vallario said he’d oppose it.

In fact, when the Glenwood Springs City Council approached the department a few years ago about possibly implementing photo radar, Vallario said he and Chief Terry Wilson refused, explaining that they’re philosophically against it.

“You’re going to have that never-ending argument of Big Brother vs. public safety,” he said. “From a law enforcement point of view, it’s direct enforcement vs. indirect enforcement.”

He compared photo radar to giving random Intoxilyzer tests to motorists.

“To go and write a ticket based on what someone saw on a camera and told me, I’m not comfortable with that,” he said.

Unconstitutional?

Rick Stanley, a Libertarian U.S. Senate candidate from Colorado running against incumbent Sen. Wayne Allard, R-Colo., said he’s utterly opposed to video surveillance on the state’s highways.

“It’s absolutely unconstitutional,” he said. “They (the government) have no authority to be doing this kind of stuff.”

He said such cameras remind him of the character Big Brother and of the surrounding circumstances in George Orwell’s novel “1984.” In the novel, Big Brother was the leader of a totalitarian society where all citizens were watched constantly through “telescreens.”

“Almost everything they do, they don’t have the authority to do,” he said. “We’re supposed to be the watchdogs of government and unless people stand up soon, we’ll have a complete and total police state.”

Canyon cameras

Colorado State Patrol Capt. Scott Friend said cameras have been used in Glenwood Canyon, and many other areas throughout the state, for years.

“Any time we have a pursuit in Glenwood Canyon they can put in a tape and record it,” he said.

In December 2000, Friend’s office conducted an experiment where troopers were stationed in the Glenwood Canyon Command Center – located in the same mountain that the Hanging Lake Tunnel runs through – and they clocked vehicles’ speed using two cameras.

The cameras were fixed on a stripe painted on the road somewhere in the canyon. When a car hit the first stripe, the trooper flicked a switch on a computer. When it hit the second stripe, the trooper would hit the switch again. Because the distance is a constant, the computer can clock the vehicle’s speed by how long it took to make it from the first stripe to the second.

But since then, he said, “Photo radar is something the Colorado State Patrol has shied away from.”


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