- Associated Press - Sunday, June 7, 2015

SPRINGFIELD, Ore. (AP) - No, the strange looking dark-gray vehicle, equipped with nearly two dozen cameras and being driven around the city, isn’t from the National Security Agency or the FBI.

City officials say the Portland-based contractor driving the rig is virtually mapping Springfield’s 470-mile public street network, not conducting government surveillance.

“It is kind of a big, ominous thing,” said Dan Haight, the city’s geographic information system database manager. “And given all the interest about the NSA and the FBI with all their aerial surveying, I thought we should give people a heads-up.”

The vehicle, a modified Ford F150 pickup carrying 22 high-definition cameras and measuring about 11 feet tall, will capture images of the streets that will then be rendered into a three-dimensional image that will allow the city’s technical staff to virtually “drive” the roadways to accurately find, measure, and inventory everything in the public right-of-way, including street lights and signs, traffic signals and curb ramps.

Chris Aldridge, geospatial manager for David Evans and Associates and one of the two employees driving in the vehicle for this job, said the truck gets is share of odd stares.

But during their jobs all along the West Coast, Aldridge said he has yet to hear that a resident has reported the vehicle to law enforcement.

“People are just kind of curious about it, and then it passes from their mind,” he said

The Big Brother feel of the vehicle isn’t lost on Aldridge, however. He noted that company workers joke about the idea of putting the company’s initials - DEA - rather than its full name on the vehicle. The Drug Enforcement Agency is the federal agency that fights the use and smuggling of drugs in the United States.

The imaging, strictly for internal city use, will help employees schedule and track maintenance of the public improvements without having to step outside.

Haight said that previously, city employees made a physical inspection with a clipboard in hand, a labor-intensive and costly endeavor last conducted several years ago.

The technology shares similarities with Google Street View, but it will allow employees to measure the dimensions and distance of street improvements, a capability Google doesn’t offer, Haight said.

The vehicle began its work Thursday and will return for several days next week to complete the job, Haight said.

The city will pay David Evans and Associates $169,000 to capture the images.

The work is part of a larger years-long city project to replace the system that manages the city’s publicly owned assets, including streets, sewer lines and public buildings, valued at more than $1.3 billion.

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Information from: The Register-Guard, http://www.registerguard.com

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