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Ask Matt ... about eye in the sky

Q. Is that a webcam or a security camera that sits high on the green metal pole at the corner of Church Street and Sixth Avenue West in Hendersonville?

It’s a camera all right but it’s not the city’s. According to Tim Kirk, an NCDOT transportation engineer, that camera is one of many that are part of their Traveler Information Management System (TIMS). Here’s how it works. Our highway folks measure and manage traffic movement on state roads using three methods: induction loops in the road, microwave detection and traffic videos. Those video feeds originate from some 650 cameras across the state. The camera on Sixth Avenue at Church Street is just one of those and its video feed can actually be accessed by the public. Each camera takes a still snapshot once every five minutes. These are “smart photos” that can detect traffic movement. There are actually seven cameras at work in the Hendersonville area. To view these street shots, just go online and search for “NCDOT-TIMS-Asheville” and click on any camera icon.
So where does this data all go? NCDOT feeds all the traffic data including the loop sensors and microwave reports into one of three traffic management centers — in Raleigh, Greensboro or Charlotte. Those centers also receive data from some of the major trucking lines. Yup, those pesky truckers help us manage our traffic. According to Kirk, mobile phones are another source of data. Each cell phone sends out intermittent pings. A private company named INRIX somehow collects and processes that information and sells it to DOT. “If there are 5,000 cell phones in cars going down the highway at 70 mph and all of a sudden they are only going 20 mph, we know that there is a problem. We see it live on the big video map on the wall here in Charlotte and we can dispatch someone to see what’s going on,” Kirk said.
So yes, we are being watched, listened to and recorded on the highways and byways. Welcome to the 21st century.

Q. Why did they close the First Citizens Bank in Etowah?

The bank closed last October after less than two years in operation. The Etowah branch was acquired in January of 2014 following a merger with 1st Financial Services Corporation (Mountain 1st) as reported here in the Lightning (9/9/13). First Citizens does not own the now-vacant building. According to bank officials, closing the branch was a business decision. First Citizens’ departure leaves Etowah with United Community Bank on U.S. Highway 64.

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