Note: This story was last updated at 3:25 p.m.
For some people, traffic cameras in Oak Ridge have been an irritant since they were installed, a detriment to visitors and businesses, an undesirable surveillance tool, and an unwelcome outsourcing of a police function.
But for others, the four systems erected on busy roadways in April 2009 have helped slow down traffic, reduced car crashes, and provided extra revenues to the city, including for community safety projects.
On Monday night, the seven members of the Oak Ridge City Council will have to take a side. They have been presented two options: extend the contract with camera vendor Redflex Traffic Systems Inc. of Scottsdale, Ariz.—or terminate it.
If Council continues the program, the five-year contract with Redflex could be extended for two years, through April 21, 2016. If members end it, they have been asked to consider installing a traffic signal on Oak Ridge Turnpike at Oak Ridge High School. The stoplight could cost between $150,000 to $200,000, and it would have to be approved by the Tennessee Department of Transportation.
In a Feb. 19 memo to Council, Oak Ridge City Manager Mark Watson and City Attorney Ken Krushenski said camera proceeds have dropped since the program started. But money from the $50 citations that they issue has been used for safety projects, including, most recently, improvements for pedestrians along Oak Ridge Turnpike, a crosswalk near Emory Valley Center, and for accessibility at a Jackson Square parking lot.
City data shows that the cameras monitored about 18.5 million vehicles in 2013, and they issued 1,449 red-light tickets and 23,889 speeding citations. Most of those were issued to non-residents, including 68 percent of the red-light citations and 84 percent of the speeding violations. More than half of the speeding violations last year—or about 15,000 of the roughly 24,000 citations—were on Oak Ridge Turnpike between the high school and Civic Center.
While the revenues from the cameras has dropped, the opposition has lost some of its vigor as well, compared to five years ago. It’s not clear how widespread the opposition is now, but a few opponents have launched a renewed effort to get Council members to terminate the contract.
It’s also not clear how the current Council will vote. The legislative body includes several members—Trina Baughn, Anne Garcia Garland, and Chuck Hope—who weren’t on Council when the five-year contract was approved in a 4-3 vote in 2008.
Current Council members who supported the original contract in 2008 were Oak Ridge Mayor Tom Beehan, Mayor Pro Tem Jane Miller, and Council member Charlie Hensley, as well as former member Tom Hayes. Council member David Mosby voted against the controversial contract in 2008, and so did former members Willie Golden and Ellen Smith.
Two of the four camera systems cite drivers for speeding and running red lights. They are at Oak Ridge Turnpike and New York Avenue/Lafayette Drive, and North Illinois Avenue and Robertsville Road. The other two issue tickets only for speeding. They are installed at Oak Ridge Turnpike at the high school and on Robertsville Road near Willow Brook Elementary School. Three of the systems are placed in school zones.
The initial agreement with Redflex allowed for the installation of up to 15 traffic enforcement systems in Oak Ridge. It also allowed two consecutive two-year extensions. The original contract ends April 21.
More information will be added as it becomes available.
Note: We added a poll to the earlier story about the number of car crashes and vehicle speeds near the camera systems. We continue the poll below in order to collect more input. It’s the same poll, so if you voted in the poll included in the earlier story, you won’t be able to vote again.