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Longview red light cameras generate almost $1 million this past fiscal year

By Richard Yeakley
Nov. 10, 2012 at 11 p.m.

In a flurry of last-minute activities before her school's graduation ceremonies in May, Amy McMillan rushed out of Target on Eastman Road and headed down East Hawkins Parkway to the ceremony.

The school teacher never noticed she drove right through a red light at Fourth Street and East Hawkins Parkway.

It took one month for a notice to come in the mail, and at that time, McMillan said she didn't even recall being at the intersection, where a traffic camera had snapped her photo as she entered the intersection moments after the light turned red.

"Of course I ran the red light, because they had a picture of me with the red light," McMillan said. "You couldn't argue it, but I never could remember running the red light."

She is not alone.

During fiscal year 2011-12, 1,898 tickets were issued by the camera at Fourth Street and East Hawkins Parkway. More than 20,000 tickets were issued by traffic cameras in all of Longview during the same time period.

The Longview Police Department reported to the Texas State Comptroller's office that the department received $973,268 in penalties for red light runners from the 11 cameras spread across the city that fiscal year.

The camera facing eastbound at Fourth Street and Loop 281 was the last installed - on March 29 - and was the most productive of the traffic cameras snagging the images of 4,300 red light runners.

Red light tickets carry a price tag of about $100 for offenders.

"The city of Longview has several intersections that had a problem with accidents caused by red light runners. Most of these intersections are impossible to monitor by a physical police presence due to intersection configuration," said Longview police spokeswoman Kristie Brian. "Studies have shown that photo enforcement programs work to decrease the number of right angle crashes and to modify driver behavior, which lowers total crashes across the city."

The program began in Longview in 2007 with four traffic cameras and has grown to 11.

The oldest traffic camera, at the intersection of West Marshall Avenue and Spur 63, had the fewest number of citations issued in fiscal year 2011-12 with 619.

Brian credits the cameras, in part, to the decrease of wrecks in the city.

"Since 2006, intersection accidents across the city have decreased 33.3 percent. From time to time, the program is evaluated for effectiveness. Cameras have been moved from intersections that have seen a decrease in the number of violations and moved to other intersections where studies have shown a problem with red-light runners," Brian said.

The red light cameras have faced challenges in Longview because of the agreement the police department reached with an Arizona-based company that operates the cameras.

"The city of Longview pays a lease amount of $4,870 for each camera approach to Redflex Traffic Systems," Brian said. "The city of Longview has a 'cost neutra' clause in the contract with Redflex Traffic Systems."

Until August 2011, the revenue brought in by the cameras was too little to break even, but Brian said a conservative projected date for the program to start making money is next May.

For fiscal year 2011-12, the Longview Police Department received the almost $1 million in penalties, paid $556,625 to lease the equipment from Redflex Traffic Systems, more than $6,000 in administrative costs, and paid another $416,642 to pay off "cost neutrality" fees.

Once the remainder of those fees are paid off, Brian said 50 percent of the proceeds from red light tickets will go to the Texas State Comptroller's office to help fund the Regional Trauma Account.

The other half will be used to create an account to fund traffic safety programs, including pedestrian safety programs, public safety programs, intersection improvements and traffic enforcement, Brian said.



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