Note: This story was last updated at 4:17 p.m. March 24.
Oak Ridge City Council could consider extending the controversial traffic camera contract on Monday, but not without some changes. Among the proposed changes are mobile units, different camera locations, and a new revenue split between the city and the camera vendor, Redflex Traffic Systems Inc., of Phoenix, Ariz.
On Thursday, Redflex said it is negotiating these and other issues with Oak Ridge officials.
“Redflex is very proud of our five-year public safety partnership with the City of Oak Ridge,” said Jody Ryan, Redflex communications director. “We are prepared to discuss various options to ensure the city’s traffic safety camera program is comprehensive and provides the highest public safety value.”
Council has been presented two options to consider during a special Monday night meeting. One would extend the five-year contract for two years with the changes. A second would end the program when the current agreement expires April 21.
Even camera supporters have said the city ought to keep a greater percentage of the revenues. Of the $6.2 million generated so far, Redflex has kept about $3.6 million, while the city has collected $2.6 million, or roughly 42 percent.
For critics, the four traffic cameras 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.
“These red-light cameras are a $6 million tax,” Oak Ridge resident T.J. Garland told Council members during a March 3 meeting, when they postponed a vote.
“I would rather put officers out into the community,” resident Kay Williamson said.
Before postponing the vote earlier this month, the Council had agreed, in a 4-1-1 vote, to amend a resolution extending the contract in order to allow camera locations to be changed, use mobile units, and renegotiate the revenue split from the $50 citations issued by the automated devices.
Supporters have said the four systems installed 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.
“I think the program has worked great,” resident Joe Lee said. “It’s not been a disaster for the community.”
Ryan, the Redflex spokesperson, called the results of the first five years promising.
“Crashes have decreased 33 percent from the inception of the program compared to four years ago at the Oak Ridge Turnpike at Lafayette Drive,” Ryan said. “The data also shows that school zone speed has decreased, indicating the program is modifying drivers’ behavior. Additionally, the City of Oak Ridge uses the fines from photo enforcement citations to improve roadway safety. To date, nearly $350,000 has been allocated to improvements, making roads safer for drivers, pedestrians, and other road users.”
Ryan suggested Redflex could be willing to consider other camera locations, if that’s what Council members want.
“The purpose of photo enforcement is to modify driver behavior on the most dangerous roadways,” Ryan said. “Redflex is willing to work in partnership with the city to examine what other areas of the community might benefit from photo enforcement. This is the city’s program; decisions regarding additional photo enforcement systems would need to be agreed on by the city.”
Under changes to state law, a city-funded traffic study will have to be performed before new camera locations can be considered.
If the traffic camera program is not extended, the city staff has asked Council to consider installing a traffic signal in front of the Oak Ridge High School on Oak Ridge Turnpike.
The high school stoplight would have to be approved by the Tennessee Department of Transportation. It could cost $150,000 to $200,000 and take nine months to install.
There are four traffic camera systems in Oak Ridge now. Two issue $50 citations to drivers who speed or run red lights. They are installed at Oak Ridge Turnpike and Lafayette Drive/New York Avenue, and Robertsville Road and North Illinois Avenue.
The other two systems issue citations only for speeding. They are installed in front of Oak Ridge High School on Oak Ridge Turnpike, and on Robertsville Road near Willow Brook Elementary School and Robertsville Middle School.
The special City Council meeting starts at 7 p.m. Monday in the Oak Ridge Municipal Building Courtroom.
See the agenda here.