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Red light cameras reveal financial and safety potential

The Federal Way City Council voted Tuesday to establish a traffic safety fund, in which money collected from red light photo enforcement will be deposited.

The fund is designed to track revenue from the year-long pilot program and limit expenditures for traffic maintenance and safety equipment. The $124 ticket fee paid by violators will go directly into the fund, where it will be accounted and designated for traffic safety, enforcement, education and engineering.

“I am very happy we are doing this for traffic safety,” city council member Dini Duclos said Tuesday.

The traffic safety fund could be used to improve street lighting, sidewalks and traffic signal synchronization, city manager Neal Beets said. It could also be used to install safety devices, such as speed humps, he said.

“We have significant needs in terms of street lighting,” Beets said. “We have kind of a hodgepodge system.”

In late August, the cameras were installed at Pacific Highway South and South 320th Street as well as Enchanted Parkway South and South 348th Street. A one-month testing period for the cameras concluded Sept. 24. Andy Hwang, Federal Way Police Deputy Chief, presented data to the council and audience documenting the number of violations seen during that time.

The cameras caught approximately 2,324 drivers running red lights at the locations. An average of 77 violations per day occurred during the month-long testing period, Hwang said.

“These numbers indicate there are a lot of red light violations,” he said. “We are hoping to bring those down.”

In videos shown at the city council meeting, one car was seen blowing through a red light at South 348th Street and Enchanted Parkway as it travelled east toward Highway 18. The car narrowly missed a collision with drivers proceeding into the intersection at the cross street. In a second video, a vehicle was seen making a right turn from the HOV lane, rather than the turn lane, on a red light at Pacific Highway South and South 320th Street.

Because the infractions took place during the cameras’ trial period, these and other violators were only warned about their actions. The city has since begun issuing tickets for the offense.

In looking at data from other states, a large number of tickets tend to be generated in the first six months to one year after cameras are installed, Beets said. As drivers realize the equipment is being used, the number of violations decrease and then plateau, he said.

The fines generated by the cameras are expected to pay for the pilot program in whole, city spokeswoman Linda Farmer said. This cost is about $228,000 per year, she said. American Traffic Solutions is operating the cameras and documenting violations.

Had the city begun issuing tickets the day cameras were installed, it would have collected $288,176 within the program’s first month. But the city is not approaching the red light photo enforcement as a means for additional revenue, Beets said. The program is meant to ensure motorists’ safety, he said.

“We are not budgeting or depending on the revenue from this program for any specific expense,” he said.

Hwang will present the city council with updated information on the enforcement in three months, he said.

In the meantime, Initiative 985, proposed by Tim Eyman, will appear on the Nov. 4 general election ballot.

If approved by voters, money collected from red light photo enforcement would go to the state to be used toward freeing traffic congestion by opening HOV lanes in off-peak hours, requiring cities to synchronize stop lights and increase emergency roadside service.

The initiative would force Federal Way to choose between deactivating the cameras or paying for the system out of its budget. If the initiative is passed, the city’s law department will review its options and the legal effect of the initiative on the city. As of now it is unclear what impact, if any, the initiative may have on the city’s red light program, Beets said.

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BY THE NUMBERS

Red light violations occurring within the 30-day warning period:

• 229: Southbound on Enchanted Parkway South at South 348th Street.

• 267: Eastbound on South 320th Street at Pacific Highway South

• 805: Westbound on South 320th Street at Pacific Highway South

• 1,023: Eastbound on South 348th Street at Enchanted Parkway South

• 2,324: Total number of warnings issued

• $288,176: Amount of money Federal Way would have collected had it been issuing tickets rather than warnings during this time period.

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Learn more:

• To learn more about Initiative 985, visit the Washington Secretary of State Web page at www.secstate.wa.gov/elections/initiatives/people.aspx

• To view a video of the violations shown at the Oct. 7 city council meeting, visit ftp://ftp.cityoffederalway.com/Outbox/Redlight_2x.wmv. The video files are provided by American Traffic Solutions.

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