They had already authorized the spending, but on Monday, the Oak Ridge City Council balked at awarding a $365,000 construction contract that would use red light camera money for pedestrian safety projects.
The contract would have been awarded to Ronald Franks Construction Co. LLC of Savannah, Tenn. The project would have made traffic safety and pedestrian crosswalk improvements at eight Oak Ridge Turnpike intersections and three residential intersections.
The Oak Ridge Bicycle and Pedestrian Plan had said the intersections needed improvements, and the Council authorized the spending during a special meeting in August.
But on Monday, a few questioned how much red light camera will remain, and they expressed concern that the contract for the sometimes-controversial cameras will expire soon, possibly in April.
Oak Ridge City Council member Trina Baughn proposed an indefinite postponement of the Turnpike safety improvements. She said the city had spent down much of the red light camera money in the past nine months.
Baughn said she was an early supporter of the cameras, but they have negatively affected businesses and much of the money collected from their citations is not directly related to student safety.
“We need to spend this money in congruence with the original intent,” Baughn said.
But Oak Ridge Mayor Tom Beehan said the camera money is not only intended to make roads safer near schools; the city can also improve conditions for the elderly and handicapped, he said.
Oak Ridge City Manager Mark Watson said the bike and pedestrian plan had evaluated pedestrian safety conditions around school zones, among other things.
Former City Council member Ellen Smith urged council members to not delay their vote. There has already been much planning and discussion of the project, and council supported it just a few months ago, Smith said.
“It’s time to use this money that you’ve been accumulating… rather than holding it again from some other plan,” Smith said. “You’re not spending it in a hurry.”
Council members Anne Garcia Garland and Chuck Hope supported Baughn’s proposal to indefinitely postpone the Turnpike improvements, but it failed in a 3-4 vote.
However, a subsequent vote to proceed with the work also failed, again in a 3-4 vote. Council member David Mosby joined Baughn, Garcia Garland, and Hope in voting against it. Joining Beehan in voting for it were Council members Jane Miller and Charlie Hensley.
A big chunk of the red light camera money was used for another project that is almost complete and was also endorsed in August. It improves a city-owned parking lot on the north side of Jackson Square.
Oak Ridge Finance Director Janice McGinnis told Council members that about $235,000 would remain in the red light camera fund after both sets of pedestrian safety projects, including the work proposed by the contract that Council rejected on Monday, were completed.
The Turnpike work would have included a mix of new and/or upgraded traffic and pedestrian signals, pavement markings, signs, sidewalks, and handicap ramps at Tulane, Rutgers, New York, Georgia, and Florida avenues, and East Division, Bus Terminal, and Administration roads. There were also three residential intersections slated to be improved.