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Clearwater may have to wait for red light cameras

CLEARWATER — City officials are interested in putting red light cameras at some of Clearwater's busiest and most dangerous intersections, but they learned Tuesday that they'll probably have to wait a year to do it.

The reason: Many of the troublesome intersections that they'd like to target are on state roads like Gulf-to-Bay Boulevard. So they need to wait until the Florida Department of Transportation decides on some guidelines for how these cameras will operate.

"It's going to be until July of 2011 before DOT has the specs out," said Paul Bertels, the city's traffic operations manager.

Still, the city might get going on the project before then.

Clearwater leaders have pondered the possibility of red light cameras for at least a couple of years.

The renewed interest comes because the state Legislature recently made the cameras fully legal in Florida as of July 1.

A couple of dozen Florida governments already have installed the cameras under questionable legal authority. Kenneth City, South Pasadena, Temple Terrace, Hillsborough County, Port Richey and Brooksville have them, while St. Petersburg and Oldsmar are getting them.

Clearwater Vice Mayor John Doran brought up the subject at the council's work session Tuesday.

Doran is in favor of the cameras because he wants to make sure no one else does what he once did: run a red light and crash into a car. In January 2008, he accidentally hit another car at Chestnut Street and Myrtle Avenue, causing minor injuries for the other driver.

Doran says he wasn't paying close enough attention that day, and he thinks the presence of red light cameras will make drivers more cautious when approaching intersections.

"It never was about the money, and it's still not about the money," Doran said. But he wonders if the Legislature approved the cameras because the state will get a good chunk of the traffic fines from them.

The new state law lets cities install cameras at intersections and charges a $158 fine to motorists who are caught on camera running a red light. On city and county roads, the state gets $70 and the local government gets $75, with another $10 going to trauma centers. Tickets from cameras on state roads send the state $100 and gives localities $45.

Doran says he doesn't care if the cameras make money, but he wants to make sure Clearwater wouldn't lose money if it puts up the cameras. A lot of cities enter into contracts with red light camera vending companies. The new state law requires that cities pay these companies a lump sum instead of giving them a share of each fine.

"I think we are going to pursue this," said Mayor Frank Hibbard. In his view, the cameras would free up police officers to do other work.

Bertels said Clearwater would most likely target some of its busiest and most dangerous intersections, such as where Gulf-to-Bay Boulevard goes beneath U.S. 19 and crosses Belcher Road, Highland Avenue and McMullen-Booth Road.

The City Council will decide Thursday night whether to ask the city attorney to investigate the idea further.

Mike Brassfield can be reached at brassfield@sptimes.com or (727) 445-4160.

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Economic development plan

Thursday night, the City Council will likely vote to hire a consultant to craft a new strategic plan for citywide economic development. Officials say the plan should address needs of existing business while identifying ways to attract new ones. The council will put the project out for bid. The proposed cost is not to exceed $80,000. The meeting will be at 6 p.m. at City Hall, 112 S Osceola Ave.

Clearwater may have to wait for red light cameras 06/01/10 [Last modified: Tuesday, June 1, 2010 7:43pm]

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