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Eyes in the Sky: ACHD is Watching You

The view from above Boise's downtown bike lanes project

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The Ada County Highway District hired Wendy Tillman and Mike Boydstun two weeks apart, 14 years ago. Now, they're practically family.

"We're like brother and sister," Tillman said. "We fight like brother and sister and we make up just the same."

As traffic operations engineers at ACHD's Traffic Management Center, they spend their days in a darkened room staring at a wall of video screens displaying 60 street intersections. Tillman and Boydstun keep a close eye on the live feeds they share with Ada County Dispatch, Idaho State Police and various media outlets, toggling between 115 cameras installed on stoplight posts around town. Five dispatch radios chatter in the background and they keep a classic rock station playing during the day.

From their god's eye view of the Treasure Valley, Tillman and Boydstun watch for fender benders, traffic delays, disabled vehicles and debris on the road. They ease the flow of traffic through heavy congestion, accidents or construction. They have the power to change red lights to green, clear the way for emergency vehicles and generally control the pulse of travel.

It's hard to recognize the city from their perspective, 30 feet in the air and looking down at traffic; the view is a little mesmerizing. Other ACHD employees regularly loiter in front of the control room's fishbowl windows, watching the watchers.

When Tillman and Boydstun started work at ACHD more than a decade ago, they had four cameras to watch; now they have more than 25 times that number, and are adding another 30 this year, with a long-term goal of 250. The cameras rotate a full 360 degrees and zoom in.

"We could tell you heads or tails of a coin on the ground," Tillman said. "Oh, people say it's Big Brother watching out, but it's not. We don't zoom in on car windows or anything like that. We could, but we'd be fired if we did."