The red-light cameras at West Rio Road and U.S. 29 South improved safety and made Albemarle County some money, according to a report the Board of Supervisors will hear today.
The county saw $90,458.45 in revenue from traffic tickets generated by the cameras, and wrecks caused by people running red lights dropped from three in 2010 to none in 2011, the report said.
According to Sgt. Darrell Byers of the Albemarle police, that money will be channeled into traffic safety initiatives around the county.
“This money is going to be reinvested into the police department for traffic safety initiatives,” he said. “We’re going to be going out in some of these areas where we’ve seen some of these 21 fatalities in this last year and actively enforcing seatbelt laws and drunk driving laws.”
According to the report, the money will also fund drunk driving goggles for driver impairment education, educational materials for the public, bicycle safety handouts and training manuals for officers helping to teach teenage drivers.
According to the report, of the nine counties in Virginia with full-service police departments, Albemarle ranks near the bottom for avoiding fatal wrecks and wrecks with injuries.
Supervisor Kenneth C. Boyd said that data surprised him, and made the cameras seem that much more important.
“The whole idea was to improve safety countywide, and I was a bit taken aback to find out that we are one of the most dangerous traffic areas statewide,” he said. “The idea is to make the intersections safer, not to make money on it. My hope is that we start losing money on it, because that indicates that we have improved safety.”
Byers said the cameras, part of the county’s PhotoSafe program, are not designed as revenue earners. Instead, Byers said, the goal is for revenue from traffic tickets to steadily decline as safety improves at the two camera sites.
“You should see a downward spiral as relates to fines in that area. That would enhance our position that this isn’t a revenue maker, it’s about safety,” Byers said. “If we get to the point that we start to see a drop-off, as we should, then we may move to another intersection or dismantle the program.”
The report the supervisors will hear at today’s regular meeting indicates that the county issued a total of 5,159 summonses based on camera evidence. The $90,000 is the county’s take after vendor’s fees, which run roughly $4,900 a month for each camera, are collected.
The cameras are operated under an agreement with vendor Redflex. Byers said Redflex is responsible for the maintenance of the cameras, which the county contracts for on a month-to-month basis.
According to Boyd, though money from the cameras will eventually drop off, there is no financial risk to the county. The county, he said, is only responsible for paying up to the $4,900 monthly fee out of the ticket revenues generated by the cameras. Once that money starts drying up, Redflex will pick up the tab, he said.
“There was no risk to us, because we had to pay up to $4,900 in fees we collected, and after that the company starts losing money, the county is not supposed to lose money, that’s the contract we signed,” he said.
Byers said that the volume of traffic in the area and the number of red-light violations make it impossible to have a police officer patrol the area for potential violations.
Board of Supervisors Chairwoman Ann H. Mallek said she is satisfied with the program’s success so far. Mallek reiterated that the program is not designed as a moneymaking venture.
“We did not ask for a program that made money; we asked for a program to alleviate fatalities and rear-enders, so I’m satisfied with it so far, but we need to keep evaluating these things,” she said.
Other data from the report indicate rear-end collisions dropped from six in 2010 to two in 2011 at the Rio Road light, and from 10 to seven at U.S. 29 in that area.
Mallek said she would hold off judgment on whether to place similar cameras at other intersections.
“We need to be very careful about where we employ it, where it can be most effective … I will rely on the recommendation of the police department as to where else to put it in,” she said.
According to the report, the two camera locations clicked 11,233 total times in their first year of operation. Of those photos, Redflex rejected 3,374. The Albemarle County Police Department reviewed a total of 6,509 incidents, rejecting 1,350.
The cost to the county has been 444 hours of total staff time, the report said. The report based that calculation on the average time two officers spent reviewing incidents and preparing for court. The monetary cost of staff time was not available by press time.
County staff is looking for ways to further review and streamline the process, the report said.
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Tucker Griffin Barnes P.C.