November 16, 2009 By Andy Opsahl
Given that the new Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas, seats more than 100,000 people, residents nearby expected maddening traffic when the facility opened with global attention in August. However, to the surprise of many, traffic flowed smoothly due to Arlington's traffic management camera system, said Louis Carr, the city's CIO.
Arlington's 140-mile fiber-optic network was the key to making the 95-camera network near the Dallas Cowboys football team's new home both functional and affordable to operate. A mile of that fiber resides inside the stadium and powers cameras viewable by stadium staff and Arlington authorities.
The traffic management system, which covers all of Arlington, puts special focus on the city's entertainment district, which contains Dallas Cowboys Stadium (pictured) and a Six Flags amusement park. Technicians view traffic video feeds remotely from Arlington's three traffic management centers.
"They can actually dispatch public safety to clear out accidents for allowing traffic to flow," Carr said. "They can alter the signals to allow for longer windows of time to clear the traffic out."
Intersections are where many of the bottlenecks happen, according to Beth Ann Unger, manager of IT infrastructure for Arlington. "To see the stadium in operation on game day and to see the use of the technology -- people sitting at controls viewing the traffic cameras is just amazing," Unger said.
Arlington's system does more than serve the stadium area. It offers public safety officials unencumbered access. Police dispatchers can tap into the video feeds as well. This enables public safety personnel to judge how many personnel they'll need on the ground before arriving at an incident. This saves money.
"Without this level of automation, almost certainly they would need more people -- more folks on the traffic barricade operations, more people on the street perspective. We ultimately are saving taxpayer dollars by leveraging this technology," Carr said.
The expansive nature of the city's camera network wouldn't be feasible financially if Arlington didn't own a 140-mile fiber infrastructure.
"It's very unusual. Governments typically will have some fiber with visibility in some areas, but they would need to spend millions of dollars a year to lease the amount of fiber we have in the ground," Unger said.
And because highways travel across Arlington or are nearby, the city qualified for several grants that it used over the years to install the fiber. Unger said that maintaining that much fiber has its own challenges, which are handled by five IT employees.
"We've worked out a very good process for monitoring it 24/7 throughout town, including all the signal light switches, which are monitored remotely. If anything goes down, we get e-mail alerts so we can confirm it," Unger said.
All over the country, community leaders are looking to boost economic development through various initiatives. One key element in many of those initiatives is the use of information technology. When local governments build IT infrastructure, create e-government applications, assist high-tech startups or otherwise focus on technology, they create conditions that draw businesses to their communities and help retain skilled workers. This paper discusses and provides examples of these various ways local government can use technology to ultimately make a community more attractive to businesses, visitors and residents.