One, two, three ... red light

One, two, three ... red light

April 6th, 2009 by Adam Crisp in News

A red-light revolt is brewing in Georgia and Tennessee.

Chattanooga's traffic engineer said he'll go to Nashville to lobby against two bills in the Tennessee General Assembly that would give drivers a longer yellow light at camera-equipped intersections.

Meanwhile, the Dalton City Council is expected to vote tonight on whether to scrap the city's red-light cameras because they are losing money.

Dalton, Ga., Mayor David Pennington said the program costs about $4,000 a month in lease payments to Laser Craft, the same company that Chattanooga uses. The Dalton police chief switched the cameras off a month ago rather than continue to pay for a money-losing venture.

"I'd be in favor of it if I thought it made the intersections safer, but you can't find one study that says that," said Mr. Pennington, who is also an insurance broker.

Tennessee Sen. Tim Burchett, R-Knoxville, is the sponsor of two bills in the General Assembly that would lengthen the yellow light to five seconds at photo-enforced intersections.

His bill is aimed at reducing the number of motorists who get the tickets, Sen. Burchett said.

Staff Photo by Angela Lewis<br> A sign advises motorists that a traffic camera is in use at the corner of Highway 153 and Hamill Road.

Staff Photo by Angela Lewis<br> A sign advises motorists...

"I don't like red-light cameras, and I don't think they have a thing to do with safety," he said. "It's a revenue stream for government, and I'd like to see them taken out completely."

Chattanooga traffic engineer John Van Winkle said the bills threaten to undermine the city's photo-enforced red-light program.

The cameras are owned and maintained by Atlanta-based Laser Craft. The city gives $19.50 of every $50 ticket based on the cameras to the company.

Chattanooga's red-light program, begun about a year and a half ago, has generated more than $500,000, Mr. Van Winkle said.

However, he contends the red-light program is not about money.

Red-light cameras

* M.L. King Boulevard at Pine Street

* Brainerd and Moore roads

* Northbound Highway 153 at Gadd Road

* Northbound Highway 153 at Hamill Road

* Fourth Avenue and 23rd Street

* Dayton Boulevard at Signal Mountain Road (Red Bank)

"If I didn't think they were making intersections safer, I wouldn't be in favor of keeping them," he said. "We pour that money back into programs that can prevent accidents."

He said those programs include capital improvements such as improved road signs and brighter traffic lights, among others.

Chattanooga Mayor Ron Littlefield plans to use part of the money from red-light cameras to fund teenage driver's education through a voucher program, spokesman Richard Beeland said.

Cameras snap photos at five Chattanooga intersections when a vehicle enters the intersection after the light has turned red. The tickets do not count as "points" against a driver's license.

The city also operates stationary speed cameras along the S curves on Hixson Pike, Barton Avenue near Girls Preparatory School and South Crest Road near the Georgia-Tennessee line, as well as mobile speed vans around the city.

Mr. Van Winkle said Sen. Burchett's bill puts legislators in charge of decisions best made by traffic engineers. He said the city employs a formula that calculates for speed, among other factors, in determining how long lights should remain yellow.

A five-second yellow light would be far too long, he said. It would encourage motorists not to stop on yellow and instead floor it because they know they have plenty of time before the light turns red.

Sen. Burchett's bill is pending the Senate Transportation Committee. A companion bill sponsored by Rep. Joe McCord, R-Maryville, is in a House committee.

Sen. Burchett said he expects to hold hearings on the legislation in the coming weeks. Mr. Van Winkle said he'll attend to oppose the bill.

And he's got a backer on the issue in Sen. Andy Berke, D-Chattanooga, a committee member.

"Last year, we passed a bill that barred a municipality from altering the yellow-light time in order to enhance its revenue form," Mr. Berke said. "We shouldn't have legislators doing the work of traffic engineers."