Bluff City’s Photo Enforcement Cameras Coming Soon

Mac McLean

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By Mac McLean
Reporter / Bristol Herald Courier
Published: April 24, 2009
BLUFF CITY, Tenn. – As city officials chose the company they want to provide speed-enforcement cameras, Police Chief David Nelson said Thursday it will be at least four months before the devices are installed along a 2-mile section of U.S. 11E.
In a 4-1 vote, the Bluff City Board of Mayor and Aldermen chose American Traffic Systems to serve as its camera vendor. The company provides traffic-enforcement cameras to 150 communities in the United States and Canada, company spokesman Josh Weiss said.
“The whole point of photo enforcement is to modify driver behavior,” Weiss said. Overall, Weiss said, his company’s traffic cameras have resulted in 40 percent to 50 percent drops in traffic violations and a 30 percent drop in crashes.
Nelson and other city officials said they’d like to see similar results along the section of U.S. 11E that runs from Pardner’s Bar-B-Que and Steak Restaurant to the Piney Flats Crossroads.
The heavily traveled stretch is plagued with speeders, Nelson said Thursday, citing results of a traffic study he asked Bristol Tennessee Traffic Engineer David Metzger to conduct for the city in January.
According to the study, 114,991 vehicles passed between Pardner’s and the Crossroads between Jan. 9 and Jan. 14. Their average speed was 47.9 mph, about 3 mph over the limit for that part of U.S. 11E.
But the study also showed that almost 9 percent of those drivers were doing at least 10 mph over of the limit: 10,336 of them were doing 55 mph or higher; 143 were doing more than 65 mph; and 12 were doing 75 mph or more.
In the past, Nelson said, he’s assigned one of his officers to patrol this strip of highway on a 24-hour basis. But after the board cut the police force from 10 officers to eight when it passed its budget this summer, Nelson said he’s no longer been able to do that. That’s why he’s looking at cameras, he said.
In December, Nelson and Alderman Don Weaver introduced the idea of putting speed cameras on U.S. 11E, especially when it comes to the 45-mph zone between Pardner’s and the Crossroads.
Many of the business owners on that highway have been complaining about the speeders, Weaver said Thursday. The city had to do something to ease these concerns, he said, because “most of our taxes come from that area.”
On April 10, the board approved, in a 4-1 vote, the resolution allowing the use of traffic enforcement cameras to catch speeders and people who run red lights in the city. But Weaver said the current proposal covers only the 45 mph section of U.S. 11E. It does not include putting cameras downtown, Weaver said, attempting to contradict rumors to the contrary he said were spreading through town.
Aldermen Melvin Carrier cast Thursday’s lone vote against choosing American Traffic Systems to supply the cameras. Carrier also cast the only dissenting vote at the board’s April 10 meeting.
“A lot of citizens I’ve talked to say they don’t want [the cameras],” Carrier said Thursday. “I mean, every citizen I’ve talked to.”
Both times a vote on the cameras has come up, Carrier has tried to delay the decision until after the city’s May 19 election, when voters will cast ballots for mayor and three of the board’s five seats.
One candidate in the election, Robert Miller, has made speed cameras an issue for his campaign. At the April 10 meeting, Miller asked whether the city was “turning to the cameras because of the downturn in the economy.”
Miller also asked whether the city would be charged anything if the cameras did not produce enough money.
Weiss said Thursday there are no minimum amounts specified in the contract his company has with its municipal partners.
Nelson said developing that contract is the next hurdle city officials must overcome in their quest to put the cameras in place. He said the city’s attorney will meet with American Traffic Systems’ attorney to nail down the details. That would include determining how much of the $90 in fines and court costs would go to Weiss’ company.
Once they’ve finalized the agreement and voted on it, city officials and American Traffic Systems will have to get the permits needed for the cameras from the Tennessee Department of Transportation, Nelson said, estimating the entire process could take four to five months. | (276) 645-2518