Crit­ics try to put brakes on red-light cam­eras

Texas cities, state leg­is­la­tors might ban de­vices amid back­lash over cost, prof­its

Austin American-Statesman - - LOCALBRIEFING -

DAL­LAS — Pub­lic sup­port for the use of red-light cam­eras in Texas and across the coun­try could be switch­ing from green to yel­low.

Three states — Maine, Mis­sis­sippi and Mon­tana — banned red-light cam­eras last year, ac­cord­ing to the Na­tional Con­fer­ence of State Leg­is­la­tures. Six oth­ers have con­sid­ered sim­i­lar pro­pos­als.

In Texas, vot­ers forced Col­lege Sta­tion to take down its cam­eras last fall, and op­po­nents in Hous­ton say they have enough pe­ti­tion sig­na­tures to put the cam­eras to a vote this fall. Cam­era op­po­nents in the Texas Leg­is­la­ture say they plan again to try to pass a mea­sure phas­ing out the cam­eras statewide.

“There is a back­lash, for sure,” state Rep. Solomon Or­tiz Jr., D-Cor­pus Christi, who co-spon­sored the anti-cam­era push, told The Dal­las Morn­ing News. “City bud­geters are count­ing on these fines as a rev­enue stream and sim­ply us­ing the ar­gu­ment of safety as cover.”

But cities us­ing the cam­era sys­tems, which cap­ture im­ages and some­times video of driv­ers run­ning red lights, in­sist they have re­duced in­ter­sec­tion ac­ci­dents and saved lives.

“They’ve per­formed much bet­ter than I ever imag­ined,” said El­iz­a­beth Ramirez, chief traf­fic en­gi­neer for Dal­las.

She said Dal­las has seen de­clines in red-light ac­ci­dents at nearly ev­ery one of its 59 cam­era-equipped in­ter­sec­tions since the first wave launched in Jan­uary 2007.

With most Texas cities charg­ing civil fines of $75 to $100 per vi­o­la­tion, col­lec­tions across the state have reached more than $103 mil­lion since a re­vised red-light cam­era law took ef­fect in 2007. State fig­ures show Hous­ton has col­lected the largest amount: about $24 mil­lion through May.

A 2007 state law re­quires cities to set aside half of all prof­its to help fund re­gional trauma care cen­ters. Most cities use their share for traf­fic safety and en­force­ment ef­forts.

An anal­y­sis of state fig­ures and the ven­dor agree­ments of about a dozen Texas cities shows the con­tracts cities have with cam­era ven­dors are the biggest fac­tor in whether a city makes money. Cities rent the cam­eras from ven­dors un­der ne­go­ti­ated terms.

Hous­ton’s $24 mil­lion in col­lec­tions since 2007 is more than triple the to­tal fines col­lected by Dal­las, ac­cord­ing to fig­ures from the state comptroller’s of­fice. And in the past two years, Dal­las’ pro­gram has cost more to run than Hous­ton’s.

Paul Ku­bosh, a Hous­ton traf­fic at­tor­ney who has led the Hous­ton pe­ti­tion drive to re­peal the cam­eras, ac­cuses the city of “sell­ing the streets to the high­est bid­der. It’s a voter re­volt.”

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