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Red light cameras could pay off big: More than $1 million a year in traffic fines is expected for Auburn
By Mike Archbold
AUBURN — At the rate tickets are piling up, the highway that leads to the Muckleshoot Indian Casino and the White River Amphitheatre could bring more than $1 million a year in traffic fines to the city.
That's even if fines drop as drivers wise up to the city's new photo red light enforcement on Auburn Way South, one of the busiest streets in the city and the gateway to the Enumclaw Plateau, also known as State Route 164.
A chunk of the fine money will end up in city coffers.
In its first week of real operation, the PhotoSafe cameras caught 41 cars a day, many that were from out of town. The majority of those drivers will be cited and face a $101 fine.
Should that rate continue year-round, Auburn would collect around $1.5 million annually from the new traffic enforcement. Even a one-third drop would keep the take above $1 million.
And that's just from the four cameras at two intersections on Auburn Way South. The city plans to add six more cameras at other intersections by year's end.
The bulk of the money collected will go toward paying for the system.
Police Cmdr. Greg Wood said any money collected above the cost of the system will go into the city's general fund and be used for public safety.
He said no one knows how much that amount will be. Redflex Traffic System, which installed and operates the program, gets first dibs on the money. They get guaranteed monthly payments of $4,800 per camera. Installing the cameras cost about $250,000 each, according to Redflex.
More cameras at more intersections, however, could generate even more money for the city.
In the first week of operation with real ticket consequences — July 1-7 — the cameras at the two photo enforced intersections on Auburn Way South caught 285 violators running red lights.
During the first week of June, during a month-long warning period before real citations were sent out, Wood said the cameras caught 355 violations and 303 warning letters were mailed.
"It's down a little bit (in violations)," Wood said. "We adjusted one of the cameras because it was catching left turns into a parking lot that were not violations."
All violations caught on camera and video are reviewed by an Auburn police officer.
"We would like to see a decrease," Woods said. "Industry-wide, you generally see a 30 to 40 percent decrease (in violations) and then it levels off."
"We hope we are having a positive impact," he said.
Wood said those receiving tickets include motorists from the surrounding area, such as Auburn, Bonney Lake, Enumclaw, Kent and Renton.
"We have a lot of transient traffic," he said.
The cameras are located on Auburn Way South at the busy M Street Intersection and at Fourth Street Northeast, just north of the State Route 18 overpass.
Wood said the city is currently surveying five more intersections for the PhotoSafe program. By the end of the year, he said the city hopes to have 10 intersections with cameras.
There are PhotoSafe signs at the two intersections to warn motorists of the cameras. There are also signs at 60 other intersections in the city without cameras.
Lakewood in Pierce County has had photo red light enforcement on two intersections since 2001 and now averages about 300 infractions per month, or about 75 per week.
Candice Bock, Lakewood assistant city manager, said the number of violations was a lot higher when Lakewood first started the program, but it has since dropped as people decide to obey the light.
She expected Auburn would see a similar drop over time.
For all of June, Auburn sent warning letters to 1,102 car owners. They would have paid a total of $111,302 in fines.
Wood said those getting tickets have 14 days to pay. Tickets can be appealed through the Auburn Municipal Court.
But it may be difficult to appeal. The ticket includes photographs of the vehicle approaching the intersection with the red light and in the intersection with the red light, as well as a close-up of the vehicle's license plate.
The cameras do not take pictures of the driver.
The ticket is sent to the licensed owner of the car.
Mike Archbold can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 253-872-6647.