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After Lengthy Delays, Project To Install Surveillance Cameras On Chicago Expressways Finally Showing Progress

CHICAGO (CBS) -- Illinois highway cameras don't record any video, they just livestream.

CBS 2 told you that two and half years ago during what seemed like a spike in expressway shootings. The violence never stopped, and neither did our questions.

Morning Insider Lauren Victory digs into the nitty-gritty of an important project that finally showed some progress this month.

From clearing roads this week to a bridge demolition last month, accomplishments to keep you safe are proudly displayed on the Illinois Department of Transportation social media pages.

Noticeably absent: an announcement last week about new highway cameras.

CBS 2 couldn't find any posts about IDOT's $12.5 million contribution to pay for new cameras to stop gun violence on IDOT roads. Is this an oversight or something else?

"They did not want to release the funds to do that," said Illinois state Rep. Thaddeus Jones (D-Calumet City).

Jones said IDOT has been dragging its feet on a surveillance system upgrade, despite a Jones-sponsored law requiring it be paid for through the Department of Transportation and the state's "Road Fund."

"I was assured when I met with [IDOT acting secretary Omer Osman] in August that this was going to get done," Jones said.

Jones called for the resignation of the head of IDOT after months passed with no money.

"It was the frustration of not getting a straight answer from the IDOT director," Jones said.

Illinois State Police Colonel David Byrd isn't in the business of pointing fingers, but had CBS 2 wondering about our interview from a year and a half ago about ISP's role in securing the new video recording equipment.

In August 2019, Byrd said "There's so many other issues that have to be considered" such as a power source for the cameras.

"So, since then we figured out where would like the cameras to be," Byrd said this month.

The logistics. Finally, the money. Up next: the rollout.

When can Illinois motorists see all of these cameras installed and operational?

"I wish I could give you a timeline," Byrd said.

Sounds like more waiting - all while expressway shootings are still happening.

"If we can have protection on the road and that and that we can also get some justice too, that's very important to me," said Alma Hill, whose sister, Tamara Clayton, was killed in a shooting on Interstate 57 in February 2019.

Hill is trying to keep positive. The IDOT system overhaul is in memory of her late sister.

IDOT's funding will cover cameras and license plate readers in 47 locations. The equipment can only be used for expressway shootings right now, though Jones is looking to expand that to carjacking cases.

IDOT deferred our specific questions about what delayed the release of funding to State Police, even though IDOT is charge of the money.

Here is the agency's full statement:

"Safety is always our number one priority and we continue to work with ISP and law enforcement throughout the state on efforts to make our roadways as safe as possible. The department recently entered into a grant agreement with ISP to provide $12.5 million for the purchase and installation of automated license plate readers to aid in the investigation of Cook County expressway shootings. This agreement is the next step in our ongoing collaboration with the ISP to facilitate information sharing related to shootings on our roadways. Prior to this, IDOT installed the infrastructure and provided the connections necessary to share a live stream collected from its existing network of traffic cameras in Cook and the collar counties with Illinois State Police. IDOT will continue to work with our partners in law enforcement to ensure Illinoisans can travel safely."  

  • The cameras currently used by IDOT are for traffic incident management purposes that help determine best responses and course of action for things like disabled vehicles, crashes and weather events. They also are used to monitor the reversible gate system on the Kennedy Expressway. As stated many times, IDOT does not record footage and does not need to have footage recorded. For our functions at IDOT, the current system of cameras serves us well.
  • During the course of working with our partners at state police, we learned the cameras are helpful but not ideal for law enforcement purposes. For example, IDOT requires a much broader picture of traffic operations, while law enforcement needs much more detailed, focused images. Working together the grant will ensure that ISP will have the technology in place needed for law enforcement.
  • The $12.5 million grant from IDOT will cover the costs of engineering, permitting, and labor associated with the purchase and installation of readers, controllers, servers/software, electrical power, and communications equipment required to install automated license plate readers. Collecting and recording images for police investigations is not an area of expertise for the department of transportation and license plate readers are strictly for law enforcement. The ISP should be contacted regarding what's going to be installed, timeline, how it will work and the issue of shootings on expressway overall.


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