Eye On KELOLAND: City Center Sentries

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Sioux Falls’ new city administration building just wrapped up its first week of operations.  People can now pay their utility bills and apply for building permits at the new downtown location.  But there’s an office on the second-floor that the public doesn’t get to see, yet it’s where traffic engineers are watching out for your well-being.

It’s a wide-angle view of the major intersections throughout Sioux Falls.

“It’s exciting, we’re really enjoying it, I think it’s going to help everybody,”  Principal Traffic Engineer Heath Hoftiezer said.

It’s sort of like sitting in a sports bar in front of all the big screens, only instead of games on the football gridiron, city traffic engineers are watching for gridlock.

“Our big focus first is the AM-PM commutes,” Hoftiezer said.

Ten 65-inch, high-definition TV screens mounted on a wall, displaying live images captured by cameras posted at traffic signal lights.  From this office at the new City Center, engineers can then adjust the timing of the lights based on what the monitors reveal.

“There’s really five of us in this area that are watching different things with the traffic and maybe looking at something,” Hoftiezer said.

It’s a far more comprehensive look at the city compared to the limited view traffic engineers had at their old office.

“We’re seeing more of the city at a time where before, if we were trying to look at what was going on on a corridor for traffic, we’d be at our computer desk switching between a bunch of different cameras.  Now, most of them are up on the wall at the same time,” Hoftiezer said.

If a set of traffic lights goes on-the-blink, engineers working from a side-room, can swap-out and re-program the electronic controller that operates the lights, shortening the down-time and keeping traffic moving.

“We unhook the malfunctioning contoller in the cabinet, we’ll pull it out of the cabinet, install the new controller, get it all hooked up, we’ll hit the go button and it will come up and start running and then we should be good and traffic will come back to normal,” Engineering Technician Matt Rock said.

Back in the traffic control center, there are self-imposed limits to what the engineers can see from their new high-tech vantage.  In order to protect the privacy of people within range of the cameras, images are blocked-out at certain locations in the city.

“This is at 10th & Cliff, so that’s the pool at 10th & Cliff, that’s all marked-out,” Hoftiezer said.

For a department that’s so focused on traffic, the workers here have done plenty of traveling of their own.  This office used to be located at city hall.  Then, it moved to the downtown library, before moving back to city hall and then finding it’s permanent home at the City Center.

“Over the last five years, I’ve moved five times.  I’m really looking forward and I think my traffic team is really looking forward to have our own permanent space now,” Hoftiezer said.

A permanent space with plenty of room to grow.  The City Center offers a sizeable screening area for additional traffic cameras as the city expands.  And traffic engineers will be keeping watch as state-of-the-art intersects with their steady gaze.

Engineers visited traffic operation centers in California and Florida to get ideas on the best design for their new office in Sioux Falls.  They were dismayed at finding some of the centers having work stations located in other parts of the building.  That’s not the case at the City Center, where those desks are front-and center, with a clear view of the traffic screens.  

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