NEW ORLEANS -- Eyewitness News has learned that a network of 69 security and traffic cameras set up by the state Crescent City Connection Division is not working properly.
The state Department of Transportation and Development’s CCC Division bought 52 security cameras in 2008 to place on ferries and at ferry terminals. It also put 17 traffic cameras on the bridge and expressway.
The total cost was $3 million, but this year only four of the cameras have been able to send live images back to DOTD’s Regional Transportation Management Center on Veteran’s Boulevard and West End Boulevard.
"They were set up to convey data on a regional WiFi type system, a wireless system,” said Rhett Desselle, the assistant secretary of operations at DOTD. “That system has not proven to be real reliable for us and it has given us some issues recently and we have been working toward other solutions to connect that data to the traffic management center."
State Rep. Pat Connick has been pressing DOTD for answers.
"All along I-10 you see these cameras and you can see the actual imaging,” Connick said. “You come to the West Bank and there's nothing. And yet we paid for a system that doesn't work."
The cameras do function, but only four transmit real-time images to offices where they can be monitored.
The traffic camera network, comprising 17 cameras, roadside vehicle detectors and WiFi network equipment, was installed with a $2.1 million contract with Global Data Systems in 2010. The state used $1.6 million left over from a federal grant for the CCC HOV lanes and $500,000 from bridge tolls.
But the contract also calls for two permanent Dynamic Message Signs to notify motorists about traffic conditions. Neither has been installed.
After being confronted about the problems by WWL-TV, the DOTD put out a news release announcing it would be moving from a WiFi network to a cellular-based system in time for the 2013 Super Bowl.
"We only had four cameras feeding to the TMC, but we are working on several more of the cameras as we speak and we should have a number of them with connectivity in the next couple weeks,” Desselle said.
Desselle said another $800,000 from the CCC tolls went to the ferry security network. That includes 52 cameras, 33 of them on six ferries and the rest at terminals. But to view the images, someone has to go to the ferry boat or the landings in Chalmette, Lower Algiers, Canal Street, Algiers Point, Jackson Avenue or Gretna to watch the video on a DVR.
"The frequency they're using to transmit the images has a lot of conflict with other radio traffic in a metropolitan type area,” said Mark Zimmer, a citizen who began questioning the DOTD about unfinished projects financed by CCC tolls.
“Even though we paid for a real-time imaging system -- the cameras are supposed to tilt back and forth and be monitored -- we're not doing that,” Connick said. “So the whole system is basically a waste."
The revelations come just one month before voters in Jefferson, Orleans and Plaquemines parishes are asked to extend the bridge tolls for another 20 years. The tolls are used for bridge operations, the ferries, beautification projects and ancillary road projects. Unless they are extended by voters, the tolls are scheduled to expire next year.
The DOTD press release mentions that the ferry system was installed by NetMethods, which was later purchased by MMR Group. It doesn’t mention, however, that NetMethods is the company owned by convicted City Hall swindler Mark St. Pierre, who is serving 17 years in federal prison.
Desselle said the cameras used to transmit images over the NetMethods network, but radio traffic began to wreak havoc with the signal. Jefferson Parish President John Young spoke to Channel 4 on Tuesday and said he wants to know how NetMethods got the contract in the first place.
"I mean, it's one thing to put up cameras, but the purpose of putting up cameras is to get data and information and then what do you do with that data and information,” Young said. “Otherwise, why do you have the cameras?"