The New Port Richey City Council shouldn't be looking at out-of-focus data when it considers installing red-light cameras at U.S. 19 intersections.
The council also shouldn't be disingenuous about its motives: trying to balance a budget strapped by falling property tax values. The idea of installing the cameras didn't arise publicly until a July budget workshop. To sell this exclusively as a safety measure insults the public. This is about cash, as much as $500,000 per year per intersection, the police estimated.
It is an overly generous projection. Under a new state law, municipal governments keep just $75 of every $158 civil citation issued for running a red light. From that, the city still must negotiate a split with the camera-owning vendor. If the city and private company divide the proceeds evenly, it means the cameras would have to generate 13,300 tickets at each intersection annually, or a combined 1,000 citations each week at the four lights, to match the revenue estimates. Those traffic lights aren't red, they're rosy.
The previous net for local governments also must be discounted. Under the same state law, motorists no longer can be cited for failing to come to a complete stop before making a right-hand turn at a red light. In Brooksville, for instance, the so-called right-on-red tickets accounted for more than 60 percent of the city's camera ticket revenue.
Brooksville's City Council incidentally just voted 3-2 to end its nearly 2-year-old red-light camera program after protests from the business community who feared a tarnished city image and because some council members didn't buy the safety statistics.
It's easy to see why. In Pasco County, U.S. 19 was the scene of 14 traffic fatalities in 2009, none at the four municipal intersections likely to be targeted for cameras: Trouble Creek Road, Marine Parkway, Gulf Drive and Main Street. Likewise, the city's own police statistics contradict the notion that red-light running is a common contributor to accidents. Over the past five years, there have been seven crashes at six of the city's busiest intersections on U.S. 19 caused by a motorist running a red light. Only one of those crashes resulted in an injury.
Government efforts at making U.S. 19 safer have been ongoing for several years after a 2001 spike to 38 fatalities, twice the annual average of previous year. The city of New Port Richey has a three-officer grant-funded traffic enforcement team to patrol the road, and Pasco County and the state Department of Transportation plan to add continuous right-hand turn lanes and to channelize median cuts along the highway.
The goal of the cameras, said police Chief Jeff Harrington, is to modify driver behavior. It's a nice thought, but speeding, reckless driving, improper lane changes, not wearing a safety belt, failing to yield the right of way, impaired driving and distracted drivers aren't covered by red-light cameras.
Making U.S. 19 safer will take more than this proposed cash grab.