TAMPA — Red-light cameras will soon turn an unblinking eye on 15 crash-prone intersections around town, with maybe more to come.
The goal is to tame some of Tampa's meanest streets: Hillsborough Avenue. Dale Mabry Highway. Gandy Boulevard.
"We're in the safety business," Tampa police Assistant Chief Marc Hamlin said Friday, "and I think this is something that could make the public safer at those intersections."
The cameras also will raise some badly needed revenue — $2 million next year in Tampa's case.
While critics question the cameras' constitutionality, the technology is being embraced by a growing number of local governments, including Hillsborough County, St. Petersburg, and, in a surprise reversal just this week, Clearwater.
In Tampa, a contractor hired by the city is scheduled to start installing the cameras in late September. They are expected to go into operation in November.
Violations will carry fines of $158. Of that, $75 will go to the city and $83 to the state. Violations will be mailed to the owner of the car that ran the signal.
This week, Mayor Bob Buckhorn said the revenue from the cameras will help him cover a $34.5 million shortfall in next year's budget.
In Tampa, the two most closely watched intersections will be Gandy and West Shore boulevards and Adamo Drive at 50th Street. Each will have cameras covering three different approaches. Another eight intersections, three on Dale Mabry Highway, will have red-light cameras monitoring two approaches.
At first, however, cameras will not cover the city's worst intersection: Hillsborough Avenue at 40th Street, with 128 crashes over a three-year period. That's because road work there prevented the city's contractor from analyzing the intersection. Now that the work is done, the city expects the company to take another look. "That's our No. 1 intersection," Hamlin said. "How could we not monitor it?"
The city's second-most crash-prone intersection is Fowler Avenue and 30th Street, with 116 crashes in three years. But it's so big, and driveways interfere with where the cameras can be put, that covering it with the red-light cameras is not feasible.
Dale Mabry and Hillsborough, No. 4 on the list of crashes, is an overpass with off-ramps, so police and the vendor decided the cameras wouldn't be effective. Generally, however, police say data from other cities show that red-light cameras lead motorists to drive more safely, and not only at the covered intersections. "We can't monitor them 24/7," Hamlin said.
But training a camera on a dicey intersection is not the same as having a police officer watching it, said John Goldsmith, a Tampa lawyer whose practice includes constitutional law.
An officer might see that someone ran the red light because a truck would have smashed into them had they stopped, he said. A camera wouldn't, nor could it, talk to the driver to understand the situation.
Once the system is in place, a Tampa police officer will look at the photos of every potential violation before a ticket is mailed, officials say. Police have said they do not plan to use the cameras to cite drivers who make illegal right turns. But an officer looking at a photo of one vehicle is not the same as an officer taking in everything going on at an intersection, Goldsmith said.
In April, the City Council approved a contract with American Traffic Solutions of Scottsdale, Ariz., to install the cameras.The vendor, which will be paid out of the city's share of the ticket revenue, is to spend $50,000 on a public education program before the cameras go on.
Officials also say the city will send warnings for 30 days before violations are issued. But for an even earlier alert, watch for cameras at these intersections:
• East- and westbound Gandy Boulevard at West Shore Boulevard, plus northbound West Shore at Gandy.
• North- and southbound 50th Street at Adamo Drive, plus eastbound Adamo at 50th.
• Southbound Dale Mabry Highway at Gandy, plus eastbound Gandy at Dale Mabry.
• Southbound Dale Mabry at Kennedy Boulevard, plus eastbound Kennedy at Dale Mabry.
• East- and westbound Columbus Drive at Dale Mabry.
• Eastbound Fowler Avenue at Nebraska Avenue, plus northbound Nebraska at Fowler.
• Westbound Hillsborough Avenue at Nebraska, plus northbound Nebraska at Hillsborough.
• Eastbound Waters at Florida Avenue, plus southbound Florida Avenue at Waters.
• East- and westbound Hillsborough at 22nd Street.
• East- and westbound Waters Avenue at Armenia Avenue.
• Northbound Armenia at Hillsborough.
• Southbound Himes Avenue at Hillsborough.
• Northbound Lois Avenue at Hillsborough.
• Southbound Manhattan Avenue at Gandy.
• Eastbound Kennedy at Ashley Drive.