Drivers on U.S. 1 beware: The village of Pinecrest is going into the red-light camera business.
The village is preparing to start testing the cameras, and tentative plans call for issuing tickets starting this summer.
That’s assuming the state Legislature doesn’t put a stop to the cameras before then.
Pinecrest Mayor Cindy Lerner, a former state legislator, wants the cameras to remain legal, saying they prevent accidents and save lives. But state Rep. Daphne Campbell, a Miami Shores Democrat whose family minivan has received five tickets since 2010, is set to present a bill to outlaw the cameras in front of the House’s Economic Affairs Committee Thursday morning. Campbell says the cameras unfairly line the pockets of the camera vendors at the expense of poor people who can’t afford the $158 tickets.
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Although some Pinecrest residents are “vehemently” opposed to them, Lerner pointed to state studies indicating the cameras lead to fewer accidents.
“I’m not giving up on this, because I believe it is our responsibility to do all we can to save lives,” Lerner said at a Jan. 15 council meeting. “And it’s clear that they save lives.”
The village is testing red-light cameras at six intersections along U.S. 1 that are prone to car crashes. But before police start to issue fines, the village is collecting data at the Kendall Drive, Datran Drive, Southwest 98th Street, 104th Street, Killian Drive, and Chapman Field Drive intersections. Since the village has a mutual aid agreement with Miami-Dade police, the village will be able to monitor both south and northbound lanes.
Officials hope to have the cameras up and running by this summer, Village Clerk Guido H. Inguanzo Jr. said.
“We are not putting them in the interior of Pinecrest,” Lerner said, adding that intersections were selected based on accident statistics.
The village’s Transportation Advisory Board recommended the cameras last April. On Jan. 15, the village council voted 4-1 to give the green light to a new red-light camera pilot program.
Councilman Bob Ross was the dissenting vote, because he said that during campaigning door-to-door he met many residents who have strong feelings against the red-light cameras.
“I have several interlocking reasons, civil liberties being one of them. I just feel like Big Brother is watching when I see those cameras,” Ross said. “Personally, I don’t like being watched when I go down the road.”
Pinecrest police Lt. Jason Cohen said that although the primary purpose of the cameras is safety, they could also help police capture suspects fleeing the scene of a crime. Cohen said the department is hoping to also get cameras that would scan license plates and therefore keep an accurate record of who is on the road and when.
Ross said that as far as safety, he was concerned about studies showing an increase in rear-end crashes, because motorists rushed to a halt out of fear that the yellow light would not give them enough time to cross. However, rear-end crashes tend to be less severe than front-into-side crashes.
Drivers contesting the red-light ticket in Florida courts, have accused local governments of tampering with the timing on yellow lights to issue more violations. In some cases in Tampa, tickets were dismissed after The Florida Department of Transportation found that yellow lights that were supposed to last 4.5 seconds, were timed to just 3 seconds.
In Pinecrest, some residents have been suspicious of the vendor. American Traffic Solutions, or ATS, has been known to entertain municipal employees from around the country during their complimentary seminars. Taxpayers are usually on the hook for officials’ wages and travel expenses. Cohen and Inguanzo said that no officials from Pinecrest has travelled to an ATS seminar.
Village Manager Yocelyn Galiano Gomez said that once a study of the projected cost and revenues is completed, the council must give the final approval. She would then negotiate a contract with ATS, which operates red-light cameras in 20 municipalities in Miami-Dade.
Galiano Gomez said she is concerned that construction projects on U.S. 1 that are set to begin in June will have an effect on revenues.
If the village would approve eight cameras on U.S. 1 northbound intersections, the vendor estimates revenue at $62,437.50 a month. The program would cost $40,700 a month on the first year, and $38,300 a month after the initial year. ATS projects an anticipated profit for the village of $21,737.50 per month, or $260,850 a year. Adding the southbound lanes would increase revenue, Galiano Gomez said.
Before the village gets its share of the $158 fee, $10 go to the Department of Health Administrative Trust fund and $3 to the Brain and Spinal Cord Injury Trust Fud.
Meanwhile, Councilman James McDonald said he supports Lerner’s effort to get the cameras, because it is in the best interest of residents.
“I have no sympathy for people who want to run red lights and not get caught,” McDonald said.