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November 17, 2005

Mysterious black squares in the road


What, asks reader G.T. Buckley of Bayside, are those "12-inch black squares located in the local road ways?"

"They seem to be located near intersections," writes Buckley. "It's as though the county went around cutting 12-inch plugs in the roadway, placing something in the subsequent hole, then replacing the plug and sealing it. It would seem to me that whatever was placed under the roadway is inactive, that is, it is not powered: no batteries, no wiring. I am not up on the current state of electronic or magnetic devices so I can't speculate how the devices work."

Buckley notes the locations of some of the black squares: "one in the southbound lane of F Street about 30 feet north of intersection with 4th Street. Two on westbound lane of Samoa Boulevard 101 overpass ... at least half dozen between the intersection of Samoa and F and the Bayside Post Office ... a total of eight within 50 feet of the intersection of Old Arcata Road and the Jacoby Creek Road ... and there are many more." Buckley wonders also about the cost to taxpayers of whatever was in those holes.

"Something is happening here; and we don't know what it is. Do we ...?"

Oh dear, we fear we have an answer: Clearly, it was aliens, planting mysterious devices to track our movements.

But just in case that guess is wrong, we called the City of Arcata as well as Caltrans. Some of the slapdash, crooked asphalt squares are likely "adhesive marks from temporary delineations from previous highway projects," said Caltrans spokesperson Ann Marie Jones. In other words, maybe some temporary sign was stuck there to redirect traffic during a road project, then later yanked out and the marks sealed over.

A more promising explanation, however, comes from the City of Arcata. About three years ago, said engineering technician Terry Barney, the city placed "magnetic induction traffic counters" on certain roads, using sticky tape to hold them down. "So, when a big piece of metal goes over, it goes click," said Barney.

The counters recorded the number of vehicles going over them for three days. Then the city went around, pulled up the counters, and downloaded the information -- the results, buried in some report from three years back, can be had from the city if you can wait for them to be dug up. Barney said traffic counts can be used to determine where to put stop signs, for instance, or to estimate how much use a road gets, which in turn helps the city decide how to lay down the pavement to insure its longevity. The more traffic, the more wear. "Pavement should last a minimum of 15 years," he said.

After the counters were removed, that left the ultra-sticky tape -- way too hard to lift off the pavement, way too sticky to leave exposed. So the city went around and coated it with sealant.

So there you have it. Someone is tracking our movements.

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