Red-light cameras may get green light for highways
By GORDON DICKSON
Star-Telegram Staff Writer

The Texas Department of Transportation's top official wants to know if his agency can put up red-light cameras on traffic signals along highways.

Only a few Texas cities have installed cameras that record red-light violations, for which citations are then mailed to the car's registered owner.

But leaders in many other cities, including Fort Worth, are interested in photo enforcement.

Michael Behrens, transportation department executive director, is seeking an opinion from Attorney General Greg Abbott about whether cameras can be placed on state roads.

Abbott had not ruled as of Monday.

The state -- not cities -- controls many signals along freeway frontage roads, U.S. and state highways, and farm-to-market roads. For example, drivers in North Richland Hills may mistakenly believe that Davis Boulevard is a city street, but because it's Farm Road 1938, it's controlled by the state.

In Tarrant County, the state Transportation Department controls lights at 345 intersections, spokesman Michael Peters said.

City officials often ask the department about the legality of placing cameras on state roads. Behrens said he wants a better idea of how to respond to such requests.

"We also inquire as to our own authority in order to address potential partnerships with local entities," Behrens wrote in a Dec. 20 letter to Abbott. The letter was made public Monday.

The letter didn't mention specific projects.

In Fort Worth, camera enforcement was a hot topic early last year and was supported by police and City Council members Chuck Silcox and Becky Haskin. No action has been taken.

More than 100 U.S. cities now have cameras, which are considered a low-cost way to prevent wrecks.

Critics, however, say many cities are only interested in raising traffic ticket revenue.

The issue is divisive in Texas, where in 2003 lawmakers allowed cities to declare red-light running a civil, not criminal, offense, to clear a legal hurdle for the use of cameras. But last year, other legislators attempted to pass a law that would have prohibited cities from using them.

Garland is among the few area cities with red-light cameras. Others considering them include Denton, Frisco, Plano, Rowlett and Richardson.