Port Richey hires new traffic spy

PORT RICHEY — The city has hired a new set of eyes to watch for red-light runners at its busiest intersections.

The City Council agreed last week to let Jacksonville-based Traffipax install its own camera at U.S. 19 and Ridge Road, pointing toward the three southbound lanes of the highway. It would replace a camera at the same spot by American Traffic Solutions, which backed out of its contract with the city in August.

Traffipax also plans to install a camera overseeing the three northbound lanes at that intersection.

The details of the Traffipax contract, including how the traffic ticket revenue will be divided and how soon the cameras will go up, will be ironed out by City Attorney Michael Brannigan in the coming weeks, said police Chief David Brown. The contract may also include installing cameras at U.S. 19 and Grand Boulevard, and at Leo Kidd Avenue and Ridge Road, Brown said.

"We'd like more intersections to be monitored, because it helps diminish crashes and save lives," Brown said. "Is there a monetary incentive for the city? Yes. But we expect you to be a good driver and abide by state law."

On May 2, the city began issuing tickets to red-light runners caught on the American Traffic Solution camera at U.S. 19 and Ridge Road. Port Richey became the first in Pasco and third in the state — behind Apopka and Gulf Breeze — to use the cameras.

The camera takes two pictures of the vehicle and its license plate — one right before the vehicle is at the white line, and another as it crosses the white line and enters the intersection.

Of the $125 citation, $85 goes to the city's general fund, and $40 to ATS.

Since May 2, Port Richey has issued about 1,900 citations, netting $109,565 for the city's general fund, according to the Police Department.

But the program hit a speed bump in August, when ATS backed out of its five-year contract with the city.

The company said then it was "unable to obtain permits to install additional red light cameras on Florida Department of Transportation and other rights of way, which prevented further expansion of the program."

Officials at ATS agreed to keep their camera in place until another company was hired.

Josh Weiss, spokesman for ATS, said his company rebid on the project after resolving its issues regarding installing additional cameras, although he declined to elaborate on what those issues had been.

The council voted unanimously last week to switch to Traffipax instead of keeping ATS.

Gulf Breeze, which uses Traffipax, says the system has operated smoothly since the city began using it in March 2006.

Since then, 4,000 citations have been issued at $100 each. The city keeps about half of that revenue, said Gulf Breeze police Chief Peter Paulding.

Two cameras on U.S. 98 and Daniel Drive track about 60,000 cars heading eastbound and westbound every day, Paulding said.

"Most crashes in the city happen on that roadway," he said.

Back in Port Richey, Mayor Richard Rober says the program has brought greater caution and safety to a major intersection in the city.

"I won't say it's a cure-all," Rober said, "but it definitely helps."

Camille C. Spencer can be reached at cspencer@sptimes.com or (727) 869-6229.

Port Richey hires new traffic spy 12/28/08 [Last modified: Friday, January 2, 2009 1:20pm]

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