Red light fallout

Red light fallout

June 26th, 2010 by Chris Carroll in News

Red Bank officials credit a decline in traffic camera fines to sending the community a strong message about safe driving, but several economic indicators point to a different conclusion.

Mayor Joe Glasscock said last week that "it tickles me to death we're not getting more revenue" from the city's efforts to electronically enforce speed limit and red light laws. Decreased camera revenue supports the argument that Red Bank has done its "educational job" with photo enforcement, he said.

Staff Photo by Allison Kwesell/Chattanooga Times Free Press - Traffic flows past a traffic camera at the intersection of Dayton Boulevard and Signal Mountain Road in Red Bank.

But in the four years since the city's three traffic camera sets were installed, Red Bank's daily vehicle counts have declined and sales tax collections have fluctuated, records show. Those trends have commissioners wondering if fewer tickets mean more people avoiding Red Bank.

"If it was such a great deal, why don't Signal Mountain, East Ridge and Collegedale have them?" asked Vice Mayor Monty Millard. "They want people to shop in their businesses and feel comfortable coming into their town."

LESS CARS, LESS MONEY

At four different intersections spread across Dayton Boulevard, the city's most traveled road, state records show a 14 percent overall decrease in average daily traffic since 2004.

The vehicle counts reflect a decrease of several thousand vehicles each day.

One business owner in Red Bank said his cash register has shown the impact of fewer cars.

Red Bank Wine and Spirits Manager Brian MacPhee said the store's location was chosen for the corner of Morrison Springs Road and Dayton Boulevard because it's the city's busiest. But it's also the site of a red light camera.

"We had business grow every year except last year," Mr. MacPhee said. "We had people tell us they wouldn't come back because of the cameras."

Local sales tax dollars have fluctuated. Before 2005, sales tax revenue increased in Red Bank each year, hovering around $1 million. Since cameras began snapping photos, collections haven't hit that mark.

CAMERAS IN THE FUTURE?

The Red Bank Board of Commissioners voted 4-1 in January to extend Red Bank's contract with American Traffic Solutions, which operates the city's traffic cameras, for 12 years.

Mr. Millard cast the lone opposing vote.

A termination clause allows commissioners to revisit the issue every three years, so Red Bank officials can first consider removing the cameras in 2013.

Commissioners who voted to extend the contract are divided on how traffic cameras impact Red Bank's overall economic health.

PHOTO ENFORCEMENT FINES

2009 actual total -- $579,175

2010 predicted -- $443,000, 22 percent decrease from 2009

2011 predicted -- $375,000, 15 percent decrease from 2010


RADAR SIGNS

Chattanooga's first speed radar signs were activated Friday at two locations -- northbound on Dallas Road near Mississippi Avenue and southbound on Fernway Road near Hixson Pike. The signs indicate to drivers their travel speeds and flash if drivers are exceeding the speed limit.

"I'm not saying they don't hurt some businesses, but 98 percent of the people I talk to are 100 percent behind the cameras," Commissioner Ruth Jeno said. "It makes them feel safer."

She said she didn't know if she would vote for another extension.

Commissioner Floy Pierce said she would reconsider her "yes" vote if she could go back in time.

"I feel like if it's going to hurt our city and our citizens in a way that would keep revenues out, my strong feeling is that it needs to be revisited," she said.

Commissioner Greg Jones said the cameras probably affect revenue, but he wasn't sure how much.

"We need to focus hard on getting our revenues back up, but I stand by my vote," he said. "If my family is safer at those intersections, I think that's still a positive thing."

If the cameras eventually are abolished, it is unclear what would happen to the four workers the city employs to run the city's photo enforcement program, which also includes a speed van.

Mr. Glasscock, Mr. Jones and Mrs. Pierce are running for re-election in November.

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