The ticket-issuing cameras that hand out $50 citations to speeders on the S curves of Hixson Pike are saving lives by changing driver behavior.
At least that's the view of Chattanooga officials and two Republican legislators, who were able to convince other lawmakers to exempt the road from a proposed two-year moratorium on new traffic cameras statewide and a prohibition on renewing contracts on existing cameras for the same amount of time.
"Ten people were killed on that road in 30 months," said Rep. Richard Floyd, R-Chattanooga, referring to the S curves. "We have a school, two churches and a subdivision on that road that were not there when it was designed."
On Tuesday, the House Transportation Committee agreed to a moratorium, a handful of other restrictions on the cameras and the Hixson Pike exemption.
Committee members signed off on a seven-item document that will be expanded into a bill. The legislation will clamp down on every aspect of the numerous photo-enforcement programs across the state, make it harder for local governments to place the cameras and limit the amount of fines that can be assessed.
The measure still needs to pass the committee, the full House and the Senate before being sent to the governor for his signature.
The 15-member committee is trying to craft legislation that will withstand scrutiny and pass quickly without major changes.
"If (this bill) comes to the House floor first ... we need to stick behind it, no dissension, kill any amendments that our colleagues put on it," said Rep. Ben West Jr., D-Hermitage. "We've got to show unity, because if we don't, we'll be in conference committee. And we'll lose something in conference committee."
WHAT THE BILL MAY INCLUDE
* Compel the state comptroller to audit every traffic-camera program in the state.
* Place a two-year moratorium on new traffic cameras and prohibit renewals of contracts in that time period. Hixson Pike's S curves are exempt. After the moratorium, no cameras will be allowed unless the local government exhausts all reasonable engineering solutions as well as complies with the following restrictions:
* Cities must pay outside companies that own and manage the cameras a set fee, not a percentage of the fines issued.
* All contracts on the equipment must be submitted to the comptroller.
* First offenses should be $10, and fines are capped at $50 with court costs not exceeding $10.
* Police officers must inspect all citations.
* New applications for cameras must pass through three entities: Tennessee Department of Transportation, Department of Safety and the comptroller.
Source: Tennessee House Transportation Committee
S Curves on Hixson Pike
Barton Avenue across from GPS
South Crest Road at the Georgia border
M.L. King Boulevard and Pine Street
Brainerd at Moore roads
Northbound Highway 153 at Gadd Road
Northbound Highway 153 at Hamill Road
Fourth Avenue at 23rd Street
Dayton Boulevard at Signal Mountain Road
Dayton Boulevard at Ashland Terrace
Dayton Boulevard at Morrison Springs Road
Source: Newspaper archives
Chattanooga Police Chief Freeman Cooper and Red Bank Police Chief Larry Sneed traveled to Nashville on Monday for the first day of testimony on the proposed bill, and Chattanooga had a city representative sit in on Tuesday's hearing. Without knowing all the specifics, Mayor Ron Littlefield's spokesman said the bill undoubtedly will affect the city's program.
"That's definitely going to have an impact on some of the municipalities in the state," spokesman Richard Beeland said. "We'll have to wait and see what kind of effect that will have."
Rep. Vince Dean, R-East Ridge, said he was opposed to a moratorium on traffic cameras. He sought to exclude the S curves on Hixson Pike because, as a former Chattanooga police officer, he said he saw how dangerous the road could be.
"Maybe we need to standardize traffic cameras across the state, but in the S curves, we know it's saving lives," Rep. Dean said. "The bottom line is that people don't want to be policed, but it's a voluntary program. No one is forced to participate. If you don't break the law, you won't get a ticket."
Chattanooga has both speed cameras and cameras that issue tickets when someone runs a red light. Red Bank has red-light cameras only.
East Ridge recently voted to set up speed cameras, but on Tuesday, Mayor Mike Steele issued a statement indicating the city would back off its plans.
"Because we were aware of the intense interest at the state level, the City Council and I decided to move cautiously on this issue," Mr. Steele wrote. "However, even with (the committee's) decision today, we will consider other alternatives to get drivers to slow down and drive with everyone's safety in mind. Our goal is to reduce the number of traffic accidents in the city."