"It is taking sort of a traffic inventory of the way people travel in the Triangle," state traffic survey engineer Kent Taylor said.
The state Department of Transportation counts traffic in metro areas every two years. This time around, engineers will take 2,000 counts in Wake, Durham and Orange counties. The numbers can have a big impact on all drivers as the federal government uses the data to allocate highway funds to states.
"Highway improvement projects, it's used in safety studies. Universities use the data for research, and even businesses contact us for data to help determine where to put new businesses," Taylor said.
The machines count how many cars go by, but people actually watch where they are going.
"I'd say we're at least 98.5 percent accurate," traffic data collector Donald Herring said. "It's not man versus machine, but we work as a team, a tandem."
Some drivers run over the tube counters repeatedly to up their counts. Some have even bribed the human counters to get road improvements.
"[Someone] wanted to offer me some iced tea and a barbecue sandwich. Naturally, I declined," Herring said.
The count will take several weeks, but the improvements engineers point toward will take several years. The traffic counters concentrate on one area or intersection for 48 hours at a time.
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