Leading in red light runners, New Port Richey to add more cameras

New Port Richey approves more red light cameras as revenue from citations falls short.

NEW PORT RICHEY — The city is expanding its red light camera program with more cameras at two busy intersections.

City Council members on Tuesday night approved adding cameras on southbound U.S. 19 at Cross Bayou Boulevard, which already has cameras pointed north; and on westbound Main Street at U.S. 19, which already has cameras pointed south.

The move comes in the midst of two seemingly conflicting trends: New Port Richey issues more red light camera tickets than many other cities, and yet revenue from the citations is far below what officials expected.

American Traffic Solutions operates the program for the city, which also includes cameras at southbound U.S. 19 and Marine Parkway, and both directions of U.S. 19 at Gulf Drive. The company also has cameras in Port Richey. ATS representative Tom Benton reports that New Port Richey ranks at the top of the 25 cities he handles in terms of red light runners. That list includes several South Florida cities with much denser populations, New Port Richey police Chief James Steffens told the council.

"That's not a distinction we want to carry," Steffens said.

New Port Richey's program is relatively new. It began last May with a 30-day warning period in which 2,000 warning notices were issued. On June 11, the program went live, and through Nov. 30 the city issued 9,695 citations, 80 percent of which went to vehicles registered outside the city, according to an ATS report provided to the council Tuesday.

Still, the program hasn't brought the revenue officials expected.

City officials had anticipated netting $88,750 a month, but instead they have averaged $54,000 a month, according to a city finance report. From June 11 through December, the citations generated a little more than $1 million — but after the state and ATS got their cut, the city pocketed $326,000.

The projected revenue came up short largely because 3,700 citations remain unpaid.

The city had also hoped to have the two newest cameras up and running by Jan. 1, but they can't be installed until state construction work on U.S. 19 wraps up this spring or summer.

Council members also discussed the case of Realtor and developer Gary Blackwell, who was featured in the Times on Sunday after successfully challenging the citation he received at U.S. 19 and Gulf Drive. Blackwell repeatedly clocked the duration of the yellow light and found it lasted about 4.3 seconds — not 4.5 seconds, the Florida Department of Transportation standard for that signal.

Deputy Mayor Rob Marlowe said the city should contact FDOT officials to conduct tests on yellow lights to make sure they are timed correctly.

"I don't want to set up a gotcha situation," he said.