SKOWHEGAN — The town of Skowhegan has installed traffic cameras in four crucial locations downtown, but officials say they will be used only to regulate traffic lights and won’t be used to catch traffic law violators.

You won’t have to smile. You won’t be on camera.

Road Commissioner Greg Dore said two types of cameras were bought from Maine companies, one in Sabattus and one in Cape Neddick, and mounted on utility poles on Main Street at the U.S. Route 2 and 201 interchange; on High Street at North Avenue; on Madison Avenue at High Street near Cumberland Farms; and on Jewett Street next to the Rite Aid store. All of the intersections are very busy.

There are a total of 11 cameras that are replacing magnetic loops installed beneath the road surface to control when the traffic lights turn red, yellow and green.

Dore said the cameras have the capacity to film drivers at intersections, a practice that has been controversial in other parts of the country, but the Skowhegan ones do not have the equipment to hook up video and Internet service to catch rogue drivers.

“I feel the cameras are more dependable than the magnetic loops that were there,” Dore said. “Traffic detection tells the lights that there’s a car there and puts it into a cycle so the lights will change. All of the other intersections still have the magnetic loops. They detect that a car’s there, motorcycle, truck, whatever. That’s hooked to the control box.”

Dore said the in-ground loops are subject to pavement wear or overlay with new road material, ice and snow and road construction work and often have to be replaced. The new cameras sit high above the traffic and are aimed at the ground where traffic stops for the lights. He said the loops cost about $1,800 a piece. The 11 cameras, each costing about $4,000 installed, replace 18 magnetic loops, he said.

There are 17 loops left in the downtown area, eight of them at the traffic lights at the entrance to the fairgrounds, Hannaford, Wal-Mart and McDonald’s. Dore said the state Department of Transportation paid for half of the cameras and for replacing some of the loops, leaving the town with a final bill of about $11,000, which was approved by selectmen to come from the highway department’s capital reserve account.

One of the models is a 4-inch ball camera, the other is in a 10-inch long cylinder 2 inches wide.

In national cases, the cameras take pictures of motorists running red lights, record the license plate numbers and send the operators a ticket to appear in court and pay fines.

Courts around the country have dismissed tens of thousands of tickets, according to a published report on complaints about the cameras. In 2012 there were 540 U.S. cities and towns using red light cameras for something other than controlling traffic lights, according to the nonprofit Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

“I know that they can take a picture if you run the light and send it to the police and the police can write you a ticket,” Dore said. “Whether they can enforce it, I don’t know.”

Dore said in those cases a defendant can contest the ticket and beat the charge. He said there are no plans to use the cameras for traffic law enforcement in Skowhegan. He said the equipment to hook up the surveillance aspects of the cameras is expensive.

“We don’t have any plans right now,” he said.

Cameras are not new to downtown Skowhegan. More than a dozen cameras were mounted on buildings after a rash of burglaries in 2011.

That project, which has had moderate success in deterring crime downtown, includes a wireless feeder system and monitor at the police station and cost about $19,000. The Board of Selectmen in August 2011 unanimously approved the project. The money came from revenue generated through the downtown tax increment financing district, or TIF.

A burglary and theft of thousands of dollars in jewelry from a downtown store in 2014 raised questions about the effectiveness and location of the downtown surveillance cameras. Skowhegan Police Chief Don Bolduc and Town Manager Christine Almand were not available Friday for an update on information about the downtown business cameras.

Doug Harlow — 612-2367

[email protected]

Twitter:@Doug_Harlow

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