Note: This story was last updated at 8:30 a.m. March 25.
After five years, some vigorous opposition, and a few contentious meetings, the traffic cameras in Oak Ridge will be removed. The Oak Ridge City Council did not extend the five-year contract with the camera vendor, Redflex Traffic Systems, on Monday.
The vote to extend the contract for two years with a few changes was 3-4.
Oak Ridge Mayor Tom Beehan, Mayor Pro Tem Jane Miller, and Council member Charlie Hensley voted in favor of the extension. Council members Trina Baughn, Anne Garcia Garland, Chuck Hope, and David Mosby voted “no.” The current contract expires April 21.
Among the proposed changes, if an extension had been granted, were mobile units, different camera locations, and a new revenue split between the city and Redflex.
The Monday night vote was made after a heated discussion from the Council and input from seven members of the community.
“It was never about safety,” Garland said. She asserted that the city had implemented the cameras in an effort to make money from traffic violations.
Some members of the community, however, felt that the cameras did make the city safer.
“I come to you with an emotional plea to keep the cameras in place,” said Miriam Wildgrouper, a legally blind resident who stated that she was recently hit by a car. She said that although the driver who hit her ran a stop sign, she believed that the red light cameras help to keep pedestrians safe from drivers who run red lights.
Beehan noted that Knoxville and Farragut have cameras such as those on Oak Ridge Turnpike, saying that city leaders in those areas don’t see any issues with the programs.
Oak Ridge resident Joseph Lee was also in favor of keeping the cameras. He felt that the only reason the city was divided on the issue was “because people have used it” to divide the city, often for political gains such as garnering votes.
Sharon Crane said that she was opposed to the cameras and alleged that any money made from violations had only been spent “on the more affluent side of town.”
Miller stated that only 1 percent of drivers were issued tickets from the cameras and asserted that they follow a very liberal policy in terms of allowing drivers to exceed the speed limit.
The cameras issue $50 citations to drivers who speed or run red lights, and they were installed at four locations on busy roadways in April 2009. The controversial five-year contract was approved in a 4-3 vote in August 2008, and it had called for up to 15 cameras in Oak Ridge. Three of the current systems are near schools.
“Redflex is disappointed in the Council’s decision to terminate their traffic safety camera contract,” Redflex Communications Director Jody Ryan said Monday night. “Results from the program showed positive safety benefits for the community. Additionally, revenue from the program was allocated to roadway improvements, making the streets of Oak Ridge safer for drivers, pedestrians, and other road users. Redflex wishes the City of Oak Ridge continued success with their traffic safety efforts.”
Although most of the council was divided on the camera contract issue on Monday, most members seemed interested in asking the city’s traffic safety board to conduct a traffic study.
Also Monday, the council agreed in a 5-2 vote to have the traffic safety board consider a proposal to install a traffic signal on Oak Ridge Turnpike near Oak Ridge High School, where one of the camera systems is currently located. Council could reconsider the stoplight proposal in four months.
More information will be added as it becomes available. See previous story here.
Sara Wise is a freelance contributor to Oak Ridge Today.