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Federal Way cashes in on red light cameras

Red light enforcement cameras at South 320th Street and Pacific Highway South in Federal Way. - Andy Hobbs/The Mirror
Red light enforcement cameras at South 320th Street and Pacific Highway South in Federal Way.
— image credit: Andy Hobbs/The Mirror

Red light photo enforcement was a money-maker for Federal Way in its first three months of operation.

A status report was presented to the city council March 17. The city began a one-year pilot program at two busy intersections in September 2008.

The cameras began to document red light violators in October. The program has earned the city nearly $160,000 since that time.

The cameras are placed at the intersections of South 320th Street and Pacific Highway South, and at South 348th Street and State Route 161/Enchanted Parkway. Each intersection is marked with signs letting motorists know that cameras stand ready to photograph red light violations. Yet, drivers continue to commit offenses.

The red light photo enforcement program is paying for itself, plus some. In the first three months of operation, the city spent an average of $20,726 per month in vendor fees to operate the cameras and issue citations. In October, $44,189 was garnered from the program. In November, $78,520 was made, and December brought in $98,431. The city captured $159,959 during the three-month period.

The violations are down from the program's first month in operation. In September — which was treated as a testing period in which violators received a warning rather than a ticket — the intersections averaged 77 infractions per day. The cameras caught 2,324 people running red lights that month. As few as 168 red light violation tickets per month will sustain the program.

"These numbers indicate there are a lot of red light violations," Deputy Police Chief Andy Hwang said in October. "We are hoping to bring those down."

Police and the city, from the beginning, expected the number of violations to fluctuate, police Chief Brian Wilson said. About 356 tickets were given in October; roughly 633 in November and nearly 794 in December. Despite November and December's increase in tickets, the numbers are still down from September.

"This pilot program is about enhancing safety for motorists and pedestrians," Wilson said. "And while the numbers may fluctuate month to month, the overall trend is positive."

Getting drivers to obey traffic lights increases drivers' safety. Red light tickets come at a price of $124 per violation. The fee paid by those who disobey the law goes directly into a fund, where it is accounted for and designated for traffic safety, enforcement, education and engineering. Because the fund was set up before the city could guess how much money the program would gather, it did not make plans for allocating the finances, said city spokeswoman Linda Farmer.

"It's a mixed blessing actually having money in the account," she said.

It means motorists are still running red lights, but it also means the city can now begin looking at how to spend the money in the fund to improve traffic safety and flow, she said.

By the numbers

September (test period; no tickets issued)

Approximate total monthly violations: 2,324

Average daily violations: 77.0

Cost per ticket: $124

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October

Approximate total monthly violations: 356

Average daily violations: 11.5

Cost per ticket: $124

Revenue earned: $44,189

Net revenue after operating expenses: $21,114.58

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November

Approximate total monthly violations: 633

Average daily violations: 21.1

Cost per ticket: $124

Revenue earned: $78,520

Net revenue after operating expenses: $59,043

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December

Approximate total monthly violations: 794

Average daily violations: 25.6

Cost per ticket: $124

Revenue earned: $98,431

Net revenue after operating expenses: $78,802.50

Source: City of Federal Way

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