01/11/06

Sarasota starts red-light camera test

ENGLEWOOD -- Red-light runners beware.

Sarasota County is scheduled to begin a red-light camera pilot program that would photograph and notify -- but not penalize -- drivers who run red lights.

The three-month program, designed to collect data to prove red-light camera's worth, could begin as soon as next week.

Don Galloway, director of county traffic operations, said Tuesday that two county intersections have been chosen for the program.

They are:

* The southbound intersection of Jacaranda Boulevard and Commercial Court/Executive Drive in Venice;

* The eastbound intersection of 17th Street and North Lockwood Ridge Road in Sarasota.

"These were intersections that we thought might yield some significant numbers," Galloway said.

According to a county release, the intersections were selected for the program based on traffic volume, crash records, a lack of problems with utilities and driveways and ease of installing the cameras.

Galloway added the Sarasota intersection had high crash rates. The Venice intersection is right off Interstate 75, and prone to violators.

"We picked intersections that weren't on the state system," Galloway said.

According to the Federal Highway Administration, a 2003 study attributed 206,000 crashes, 176,000 injuries and 934 death to motorists running red lights nationally.

"Some people don't want to wait, and some people just aren't paying attention," Galloway said.

Red-light camera citations are illegal in Florida, though a legislative bill is seeking to give individual municipalities the right to enforce red-light laws.

Galloway said the information received from the cameras would be compiled and given to state legislators.

Last September, commissioners passed a resolution asking other cities and counties to join them in creating a Green Light for Red Light Camera Enforcement Coalition, a county report stated. The coalition would show local government's support for the authorization of using red-light cameras.

Other Florida locations, including Manatee County, Orlando and Melbourne, have installed test cameras.

"The data will go to our Legislature," Galloway said. "We'll get them some information before the Legislature starts."

Peek Traffic is installing the test cameras free of charge, Galloway said. The cameras cost about $50,000 each. The Sarasota camera is already positioned, while the Venice camera is slated to be erected 10 a.m. Thursday.

There will be no sign indicating the camera's presence.

You can e-mail Gavin Off at goff@sun-herald.com.

By GAVIN OFF

Assistant Englewood Editor