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Crashes decline at Longview intersections after red light cameras removed

By Jimmy Isaac
April 16, 2016 at 11:18 p.m.

The red light camera stands above Loop 281 at Fourth Street Monday, March, 23, 2015, in Longview.  (Kevin Green/News-Journal Photo)

If Big Brother was meant to save motorists from serious injury or death in Longview, crash data doesn't support it.

In the 10 months since City Council members ordered red light cameras taken down at 10 intersections, reported crashes at those intersections have decreased, dropping 2.4 percent compared with the final 10 months the cameras were in use.

Crashes across the city have increased slightly, however, in the 10 months since the cameras were removed, according to Texas Department of Transportation data.

Drivers like Andrea Mitchell of Longview say they're not surprised by the data.

"I thought they caused a hazard," she said of the cameras. "At those cameras, if I were coming up close to it, I would want to slam on my brakes because I didn't want to get a ticket."

"When I was out there, red light cameras made no difference to me," said Fran Harris, who frequently drives through two intersections once monitored by cameras. "The majority of other drivers went ahead and ran the light anyway."

Council members' unanimous decision May 18 to end red light camera monitoring was met with applause from many residents. It was the council's first significant decision moments after Mayor Andy Mack, District 1 Councilman Ed Moore and District 2 Councilwoman Nona Snoddy were sworn into office.

In a meeting earlier that month, council members tabled a vote that would have extended the city's contract with Phoenix-based Redflex Traffic Systems to continue operating the cameras in Longview

"The intent of red light cameras when they were initially considered was to help us at some of the busier intersections reduce the T-bone type crashes," said former Mayor Jay Dean.

"When we were considering renewing last year with Redflex, it became very evident that that goal was not being achieved," Dean said. "So, therefore, even though action was taken after my term expired, I was very happy to see Longview City Council do the right thing by not renewing the contract."

The Longview Police Department recommended the city continue the red light camera program. According to police, the cameras corresponded with a decrease in wrecks across the city, and they freed up officers from having to patrol busy intersections for red light violations.

The police department issued this statement in response to crash data from TxDOT: "The contract came up for renewal, it went before council, and council decided not to renew the contract."

Citations

The city maintained 12 red light cameras at 10 intersections until May. For each camera, the city paid Redflex about $5,000 per month.

Opponents of the cameras said the ongoing cost, plus the tens of thousands of dollars leaving the city and state each month, were reasons to stop using the cameras. Even though the cameras were in use in Longview since 2007, the city never made a profit on the system until after March 2013.

At the time of the council's vote, there were concerns that the cameras would be banned statewide. However, about a week after the vote, the state House Transportation Committee killed Senate Bill 714 that would have phased out using red light cameras statewide.

Mitchell and Harris said they're happy to see the cameras gone. So does Stephenie Jeffers, who moved back to Longview a couple of months before they were taken down. She said she got at least three citations from Redflex, but she's never gotten a red light citation from Longview police.

"I am surprised (crashes at the intersections are down)," Jeffers said, adding she would have believed people would disobey red lights more frequently knowing the cameras weren't there.

"I just don't think they did what they were actually intended to do," Harris said.

Redflex Traffic Systems operated red light cameras at these intersections in Longview that were selected by a city advisory board of residents:

  • West Loop 281 at Bill Owens Parkway

  • East Loop 281 at Fourth Street

  • West Marshall Avenue at Spur 63

  • West Marshall Avenue at H.G. Mosley

  • Estes Parkway at Estes Drive

  • South Eastman Road at South Access Road

  • Judson Road at Hollybrook Drive

  • East Hawkins Parkway at Fourth Street, and

  • Mobberly Avenue at East Cotton Street.

Redflex Traffic Systems took down most, if not every, red light camera in Longview by the end of May.

  • Fatalities and injuries

In the past 30 months, there have been 23 fatal crashes in Longview.

However, not one of those fatalities was reported at any of the 10 intersections once monitored by red light cameras.

And while 526 motor vehicle crashes in the city involved incapacitating injuries in the past 30 months, four such crashes happened at camera-monitored intersections.

Red light citations

Longview police officers have written 173 red light citations in the past 10 months. That compares to 15,149 red light citations issued by police and Redflex in the 10 months before that, from the beginning of August 2014 to the end of May.

Redflex issued 19,754 citations at the 10 intersections in the 10 months between Oct. 1, 2013, and May 31, 2014. Over the next 10 months before the cameras were taken down in May, Redflex issued nearly 15,000 citations, or 24 percent fewer than the previous 10 months.

Meanwhile, citations issued by Longview police also decreased by 3.5 percent — from 171 in October 2013-July 2014 to 165 in August 2014-May 2015.

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