City's first red-light camera to start in April
State legislation mandating that fees go to schools could sidetrack Springfield's plan.
Despite recent legislative action that may hinder a plan for automated red-light enforcement in Springfield, officials are exploring avenues to ensure that drivers who run red light pay their fines.
By April, the city's first camera will be installed and operating to snag motorists who run the red-light signal in the southbound lane of National Avenue at Battlefield Road.
"By the end of next week, we could go live with it," said Earl Newman, the city's traffic engineer.
Officials plan to have four more cameras installed by July and another set by October. The city aims to have a total of 16 cameras installed at high-traffic intersections.
"I'm confident we could put eight in by the end of the year," Newman told City Council members during their luncheon meeting Tuesday.
With the installment comes a 30-day warning period. Owners of the vehicles seen running the red light will be mailed a warning notice, Newman said.
But in late-night action March 14 in Jefferson City, an amendment was added to a transportation bill by a St. Charles senator. It would transfer fees collected from an automated photo red-light enforcement system to public schools.
The bill was approved by the Senate and is now in the House.
And if the amendment becomes law, "that would be devastating," Newman said.
"It's really going to totally bring the system to a stop," he said.
The city's $1.1 million contract with vendor LaserCraft was designed to be self-sustaining so that the general revenue fund would not be touched, officials say.
"We see (the amendment) as impairing our contract," said Dan Wichmer, city attorney.
Springfield lobbyist Scott Marrs said he would be "working to remove that amendment." The General Assembly is on a break and will resume session Monday.
Despite the unexpected legislative development, local officials are moving ahead with the plan, which has been in the making for more than a year.
Getting people to pay
The camera surveillance system identifies a violation if a vehicle crosses the white stop line when the traffic signal for that auto is red. A civil penalty citation notice will be issued to the owner.
The Springfield Police Department will review and confirm the violations sent to them by the photo red light system's vendor, LaserCraft.
LaserCraft will be responsible for the initial identification of potential violations, and — after the police department confirms the offense — determination of the car's owner and mailing citations, Newman said.
LaserCraft also will be responsible for the operation and maintenance of the photo-enforcement equipment.
Municipal court will handle the appeals cases, the city's finance department will handle the payments and the city's law department will deal with the collections process if the fines are not paid.
Newman said city staffers are working on crafting a council bill that will "spell out better" the enforcement policies and to have that bill ready by April 16.
During Tuesday's meeting, Mayor Tom Carlson raised concern about the possibility of the city having to go to court over a $100 fine.
He also asked whether it would be possible to put a "boot" on a car — a device that makes it impossible to drive an auto — as a way to enforce the penalty.
Wichmer said, "we could look into that."
Other discussions about how to enforce the penalty fees include assigning the fee onto the vehicle owner's personal property tax.
"They're serious about wanting to collect the fines," Newman said.
"That's the only way the program is really going to make a difference ... for people to feel that they need to pay the fines."