By Todd Matthews, Editor
Feb 28 2007

City Councilmembers appear poised to introduce several red-light radar monitoring systems at intersections throughout the city, according to a City Hall presentation yesterday.

If the council adopts an ordinance next month allowing the system and approves a contract with Scottsdale, Ariz.-based Redflex Traffic Systems, Inc., as many as 40 cameras could be placed in 20 of the most traffic-prone intersections in Tacoma by this summer.

City staffers endorsed the plan recently after it worked its way through the City's environment and public works committee, and point to its so-called cost-neutral arrangement. According to information provided yesterday, the contract would call for the city to pay $4,850 per month for system service. City staff, however, reported preliminary studies show that one to two citations per camera per day would cover vendor costs. They estimate each camera would capture 200 citations per month, which would more than cover costs of Tacoma Police Department personnel to review citations and appear in court when citations are challenged.

"It's cost-neutral because we can assure you the system will be 100 percent funded," said Redflex representative Wade Dennisworth, who added that billing would never exceed income generated by the system. "It's a tax on people who violate the traffic system."

Washington law dictates cameras are restricted to two arterial intersections, railroad crossings, and school zones. Additionally, cameras can only take photographs of the vehicle and license plate during an infraction, and cannot reveal the face of the vehicle's driver or passengers, or share that information to the public.

If implemented in Tacoma, citations would be treated the same as parking tickets, and would not appear as infractions on driving records. Citations would be mailed within 14 days of a violation to the vehicle's registered owner.

The system also appeals to City staff because it would require no infrastructure investment, and a streamlined process for reviewing violations. Redflex technology would capture an image of the violation and identify the vehicle's owner. Police would have the final determination of whether to accept or reject a violation. If accepted, Redflex would print and mail citations. A citation would include an image of the violation, as well as an Internet link where citation recipients could view an online video clip depicting the violation.

"We wanted a turn-key program as opposed to a program that used a lot of city time," said assistant city attorney Mike Smith.

During yesterday's meeting, councilmembers watched video clips captured by Redflex technology depicting collisions caused by drivers running through red lights and plowing into cross-traffic.

According to Dennisworth, Redflex has installed systems in more than 100 U.S. cities, including Aberdeen, Auburn, Lakewood, and Bremerton. In Beaverton, Ore., a system installed in 2001 has resulted in a 67 percent reduction of injury accidents, and a 39 percent reduction in red-light violations.

"This is a tool that will be enforced because of the technology involved," said Councilmember Connie Ladenburg. "I think it will definitely have an affect on traffic behaviors."

Councilmembers are expected to vote on the issue March 22. If the council approves an ordinance allowing the systems in the city, and enters into a contract with Redflex, a system could be up and running in Tacoma by July 1.