Methuen considers red-light cameras

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By Jason Tait
Staff Writer

METHUEN Red-light scofflaws on Broadway, watch out.

Police Chief Joseph E. Solomon said running red lights on Broadway has become too routine and dangerous. He wants to stop it with a little help from some not-so-secret cameras.

Solomon wants to install the cameras at three of the road's intersections Hampshire Street, Rosewood Street and at Route 213 across from the Nevins Farm animal shelter. These cameras would catch drivers blowing through red lights, and within a few weeks, the drivers would each receive $100 tickets along with a snapshot of them in the act.

"There is not a time when you don't see someone either burning through a yellow or running the red light," he said of the stretch of Broadway between Lawrence and Salem, N.H., which sees 18,000 cars a day.

Mayor William M. Manzi III and Solomon will introduce the red-light camera ordinance to City Council tomorrow at 7 p.m. for possible approval.

A public hearing will take place at 5 p.m. to give Solomon a chance to make his case. The ordinance could then be approved at a later date.

"We're looking at it from a public-safety point of view," Manzi said. "The chief would really need to sell the community and City Council on it."

Methuen's neighbor, Lawrence, is close to inking a contract with Redflex Traffic Systems Inc. of Scottsdale, Ariz., said police Chief John J. Romero. The same company is offering the same deal to Methuen it picks up the cost of installing and maintaining the cameras but collects a percentage of each ticket that is issued.

"It's a way of modifying bad driving habits," Romero said. "It's intended to make people stop at the light."

Solomon has not negotiated a contract with Redflex and does not know what percentage of each Methuen ticket the company keeps.

The company has such contracts in 60 cities nationwide, among them Knoxville, Tenn., and Minneapolis. Lawrence is expected to be the first city in the state to install the cameras.

A running debate exists nationwide on whether the cameras make driving safer or whether they are just revenue makers for cities and the companies that maintain them.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, studies show that crashes resulting in injuries are reduced by about 25 percent at intersections where the cameras exist.

On the other hand, the number of rear-end crashes increases because drivers hit their brakes for yellow lights but someone behind them does not.

Solomon believes the cameras will make Broadway safer. He plans to install large signs to warn people about the cameras, and said he hopes that public knowledge of the cameras results in "zero violations."

City Councilor Kenneth R. Willette Jr. will vote in favor of the program, which he said could help fund upgrades to traffic signals across the city.

"I support it ... if it serves as a deterrent," Willette said.