Strange antenna-like devices have been popping up around Billings.

Mindlessly scrolling through Facebook yesterday, I came upon a post on one of those Montana fan pages. You might be in some of the same groups, where it's mostly pictures of beautiful scenery from around the state, wildlife photos, off-the-beaten-path finds, and the occasional silly Montana meme.

One member shared a photo (similar to the one I took above) of what appears to be an antenna or something attached to a stop sign on Billings West End. The person who posted was wondering about their purpose and many of the responses were downright hilarious.

Michael Foth, TSM
Michael Foth, TSM
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I set out to find the gadget myself and take a look.

As I pulled up to the intersection just west of Shiloh Road and Central Ave, I immediately spotted the odd device. I parked my car down the street and as I was walking up to take a closer look, a City of Billings employee stopped the mower he was operating in the ditch. "What is that thing?" he asked, as I snapped some photos. "Funny you should ask," I replied. He mentioned that he has seen more of the devices just down the road a bit on Shiloh.

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Is it secret government tech?

One outlandish comment on the original post suggested these devices strapped to stop signs are part of some wacky government conspiracy where we're all geofenced into a certain area, designed to limit our travel when the government forces us all to drive electric vehicles. Um... ok. They even provided links to some super-sketchy YouTube experts to "verify" that claim.

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Brain-frying 5G?

Others chimed in that perhaps the antenna-like device has to do with cellular technology. If that were the case, these are the crappiest 5G towers I've ever seen. Although, whoever installed them must be familiar with theft in Billings... the device has multiple padlocks on the latches that affix the gear to the stop sign pole.

Michael Foth, TSM
Michael Foth, TSM
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Californian trackers?

Others humorously suggested that the device is some sort of tracker that monitors new out-of-state arrivals. Gotta' keep an eye on those darn Californians, right?

Michael Foth, TSM
Michael Foth, TSM
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The logical explanation.

The strange-looking devices are no reason for concern. They are simply the latest version of traffic-counting devices. These systems are replacing the former method of counting vehicle traffic that typically uses a pneumatic hose that lays across the road. Whenever a car drives over it, it senses the change in pressure and takes a count.

A closer look at the "antenna" reveals it to be a mast for some sort of camera(s) mounted on the top. I would guess there is a motion sensor up there too. When it senses a vehicle driving by, it takes a count. Perhaps the data is fed wirelessly to MDOT or a tech comes by and downloads a file, similar to a trail cam.

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