Volume of vehicles will help engineers planThe Oregon Department of Transportation is temporarily installing TV surveillance cameras on telephone poles and other high perches at various locations in Astoria.

Nothing sinister is going on; it's not part of the Patriot Act. It's just the modern way of doing a traffic count.

"It's strictly counts, that's all we do. That's all we can do with them,"said Matt Knight, the ODOT employee who sets up the cameras on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays for 24-hour stints at a different location each day. The tapes are kept for a year and then destroyed.

In the old days, someone actually had to sit at intersections all day and all night, counting the vehicles that went by, said Don Crownover, a team leader for the Transportation Monitoring System Department in ODOT's Transportation Development Division in Salem.

He said ODOT switched to cameras because they're safer and more cost effective and they also improve accuracy and provide a permanent record.

Knight started in Astoria with four cameras, but one of them broke early on, so it will take longer to finish counting at the 37 different intersections he'll monitor.

This week he monitored Irving Avenue at Eighth, 11th and 16th streets; Grand Avenue starting at Eighth Street; and Ninth, 10th and 11th streets between Exchange Street and Franklin Avenue. He also setsout road tubes, which register every time an axle crosses them, but can't give additional information such as direction of travel.

On Thursdays he takes the cameras down and heads back to Salem. There, people watch the video tapes and glean the information for whatever employee or department needs it. In this case it's Becky Knudson, a senior transportation analyst for ODOT. She's creating a model of traffic patterns in Astoria and the rest of Clatsop County with an eye toward reviving the Astoria bypass.

"The bypass is a topic that's come and gone, and now it's up again," said Knudson. "Sen. (Joan (Dukes is interested in it. So we're rushing to get the model done."

Knudson said Astoria officials are telling ODOT where they expect growth to occur in the future, but she's getting a picture of "now" from the videotapes. That way she'll be able to see if the model she generates actually corresponds to reality, she said.

Local neighborhoods feed into local highways, but "like rain trickling down a hill," Knudson said, "traffic can go where you don't expect." Her model needs to be "calibrated and validated" for such factors as traffic generated by a big employer and seasonal activities that bring large numbers of vehicles to certain locations.

Knudson said she'll calibrate and validate at 45 points in Astoria and Warrenton and a large section of the county, from Gearhart on the south, to the Knappa area on the east. She'll work closely with engineers and planners to coordinate the data that's gathered, and help decide how best to handle traffic issues within a "reasonable" budget. Knudson, an economist, said the role of transportation analysis is to support economic activity.

According to ODOT's Crownover, policy, planning, construction, operations and maintenance programs depend on traffic volume data, and many land use and development decisions are affected by that information.