MDOT cameras along I-94 in Benton Harbor provide photos, video

By Tony Wittkowski | Business Reporter | The Herald-Palladium

BENTON HARBOR — Driving along the Interstate 94 interchanges near various Benton Harbor on ramps, motorists may have noticed cameras posted atop towering utility poles.

These cameras, though not fully operational yet, were installed in the area about a year ago and are used to monitor traffic patterns and how weather affects roadway operations, said Michigan Department of Transportation Spokesman Nick Schirripa.

An MDOT camera, located along I-94 near Exit 27 in St. Joseph, is among hundreds across the state that send a live video feed or a series of photos to MDOT’s website. (Don Campbell | HP Staff)

An MDOT camera, located along I-94 near Exit 27 in St. Joseph, is among hundreds across the state that send a live video feed or a series of photos to MDOT’s website. (Don Campbell | HP Staff)

While the cameras were installed in the Benton Harbor region along the highway, Schirripa said they can be hard to spot.

“It varies by location, but they sit about 25-30 feet in the air on these aluminum utility poles,” he said. “Some are in the median while others are off the shoulder. They look like video cameras – a gray box with a lens sticking out of it. They are not terribly obvious, so if you are not looking for them its easy to miss.”

While he did not know how many were stationed in Benton Harbor, Schirripa said MDOT has installed hundreds across the state within the past three years.

Other than hanging out and watching traffic, these cameras send a feed to MDOT officials that project live video or photos that are updated every 60 seconds.

All the cameras are available for public review by going online to michigan.gov/drive. Each viewer of the site is given a map of Michigan, which showcases major streets and highways with construction updates and camera icons that can be accessed through the click of a mouse. The majority of these cameras fall in major cities like Detroit, Lansing and Grand Rapids.

However, other towns have feeds online, including a handful in the Upper Peninsula.

Through a lens

While the majority of cameras across the state take pictures that are updated each minute, Schirripa said the ones with a live video feed are predominantly in the Metro Detroit region. The cameras along I-94 in Benton Harbor are not online yet, but they will be streaming images by the end of this year, Schirripa said.

“We are working to get them all connected,” he said. “I think they’ll be useful for drivers because if you are traveling from Benton Harbor to Detroit, you can look at all those cameras along I-94 to give yourself an idea of what’s happening on the road.”

Schirripa said he does not know if there are plans for cameras to go in other Berrien County locations, but that doesn’t mean any are being ruled out.

“We are taking it one interchange at a time,” he said. “I’m sure there will be more in the future. It’s just a matter of identifying key locations for them and where they work best.”

MDOT is in charge of installing the cameras and keeping them maintained. The state agency has a third-party agreement with private contractors for hosting all the video and uploading still photos to its website.

“I think the ability for us and motorists to get a bird’s eye view of what’s happening before we get there is interesting,” Schirripa said. “We’ve been able to help motorists avoid traffic back ups, especially when weather changes. If we can get a jump on things like lake effect snow ahead of time, we can send out emails, texts and alerts from our digital message signs to let people know what’s coming.”

Contact Tony Wittkowski at twittkowski@thehp.com or (269) 932-0358. Follow him on Twitter @tonywittkowski.

(Author’s Note: This article was originally published on Aug. 17, 2015)

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