PHOENIX -- Arizona is planning to use automated equipment to enforce speed limits and catch red-light runners on state highways in the first program of its kind in the country.
The two-phase program would start with cameras in construction zones and at traffic signals on some highways. Cameras would then be placed at selected locations on Phoenix-area freeways.
Citing decreased speeding and accident rates during Scottsdale's placement of speed cameras on a stretch of the Loop 101 state freeway in that city, Gov. Janet Napolitano on Jan. 24 announced she was directing the Department of Public Safety to work with the Department of Transportation to launch the state program.
The program is starting to take shape, DPS program manager Cmdr. Tom Woodward told The Associated Press.
While other states and many local governments in Arizona and elsewhere have long used photo equipment to enforce speed limits on streets and highways in selected areas _ such as construction zones _ safety experts say no U.S. state has implemented the automated equipment on a broad scope to enforce speed limits on freeways or open stretches of highways.
While some automated systems use radar, the system in Scottsdale uses time-and-distance data from sensors embedded in pavement to make near-instantaneous computerized calculations to trigger cameras that take pictures of speeding vehicles. Motor vehicle records provide the names and addresses of vehicle owners.
In mid-May, Woodward said DPS plans to request proposals for camera-equipped vans to deploy behind barriers at construction zones to enforce speed limits and for cameras to be installed at highway intersections with speed limits of up to 45 mph.
A contract for those cameras could be awarded as early as in July, Woodward said.
However, because of the complexities involving speed cameras on freeways and other high-speed routes, it will take about a year from now to award a contract for the Phoenix-area freeway phase, Woodward said.
"There's a lot of moving parts, if you will," Woodward said. "This has never been done in the United States before."
Before issuing a formal request for proposals, DPS plans to request information from possible vendors to get an idea of what types of systems there are.
Also, courts need to be prepared to handle the expected flood of freeway speeding tickets, Woodward said.
Scottsdale had already used cameras on its local streets for years before having a contractor add them to the Loop 101, but the expansion "still confronted them with significant challenges," Woodward said.
An initial focus of the second phase could be to put cameras at major freeway junctions, such as the ramps that connect Interstate 10 and U.S. Route 60 in Tempe, to reduce the number of sideswipe collisions, he said.
Those sorts of highway junctions are prone to high collision rates because of short sight lines for drivers on flyover ramps, Woodward said.
Accident rates will be a major factor in what locations are picked for red-light cameras, with possible initial locations including highway intersections in Bullhead City in Mohave County, Sierra Vista in Cochise County and eastern Apache Junction in Pinal County, Woodward said.
He said DPS is hesitant to station camera vans right alongside open stretches of highways or freeways where they can pose a safety hazard by distracting drivers traveling at high speeds.
While DPS plans to place initial freeway cameras in the Phoenix area, he said there is potential to expand the program to Tucson and other areas of the state.
One lesson learned from Scottsdale's project is that it became apparent that many motorists slowed down only for that portion of the freeway, Woodward said.
Because of that, he said, "the ideal situation would be the technology for roving or mobile enforcement on the freeway system, because you greatly enhance the spillover effect."
While one potential vendor reportedly wants Arizona to switch to having vehicle owners instead of drivers held legally responsible for citations, Woodward said DPS is not considering that measure. "At this point we would leave that to the Legislature," he said.
The East Valley Tribune reported April 16 that Scottsdale-based American Traffic Solutions was trying to gather legislative support for a switch in the citation liability.
On the Net:
Arizona Department of Public Safety: http://www.dps.state.az.us/
Arizona Department of Transportation: http://www.dot.state.az.us/