As tens of thousands of people drive through Denton each day, many of them are being watched from a small room inside a modest government building.

“But these cameras at our intersections are not recording,” James Andrews said. “We are merely monitoring, trying to reduce idle times and keep people moving.”

Andrews is operations manager for Denton’s Traffic Management Center. He’s been with the city for four years.

“I retired from Arlington in 2015,” he said. “This was an idea I wanted to bring with me.”

Using Gridsmart Technologies’ system, the city has 108 cameras online along and around Interstate 35E and other high-volume areas, allowing city employees to monitor traffic flow and adjust signal timing according to a variety of conditions.

“We’re about a month into this,” Andrews said. “We have 128 cameras on our system, using roughly about 40 miles of fiber optic cable. We are trying to use our resources more efficiently.”

Some of the cameras provide fish-eye views, and all of them can be moved to show different angles with the click of a mouse.

On Friday, Andrews accessed a camera at I-35E near Buc-ee’s, where traffic was moving normally in all lanes and directions.

“I know by looking at this that everything is OK,” he said. “But if I got a call saying that we’re not getting a green light coming out of Buc-ee’s, I’d have to send a technician out there to fix the cabinet.”

The “cabinet” is essentially the control box for the traffic signal.

“Let’s say we have a strong wind come through and knock out the sensor,” Andrews said. “We’ll have to go out there and physically wind it back up.”

Otherwise, a few clicks from inside the Traffic Management Center allow officials to adjust the timing mechanisms on signals, some of which are radar-detecting.

“I can go in here and change the cycle times,” Andrews said. “It’s a 30- to 35-second process. What we change right here is instantaneous. And it’s all 100% city-controlled. We do maintain TxDOT right-of-way on I-35 and [Loop 288] through interlocal agreements.”

The cameras are useful for traffic control during large events in the city and at the University of North Texas.

“We coordinate with the Denton Police Department and UNT police for parades, football games, graduations and things like that,” Andrews said.

And while the cameras return data to the Traffic Management Center, it is not used for law enforcement purposes — although Denton police have access to that information. Last year, Texas lawmakers made it unlawful to use traffic cameras to enforce speed limits.

“A lot of this data is what we turn over to our traffic engineering group,” Andrews said. “We can pull all kinds of information.”

For example, more than 27,000 vehicles entered the intersection at University Drive and Ruddell Street on Wednesday. Data shows how many were eastbound, westbound, northbound and southbound and how many made illegal turns.

“But it’s just a tool for [signal] timing,” Andrews said. “We can also use it for speed studies.”

The Traffic Management Center employs 11 people. According to Ethan Cox, the city’s public works general manager, the department’s budget is about $2.3 million. Denton’s traffic engineering and traffic operations groups make up the transportation division, the city’s website shows. It includes the management of traffic signals, traffic signs, road markings, bike lanes and school zones.

PAUL BRYANT can be reached at 940-566-6881 and via Twitter at @paulbryant_DRC.

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