Supervisor Eugene Delgaudio (R-Sterling) got what he wanted: a sign posted this month at the intersection of Route 7 and Drainesville Road warning Loudoun drivers about Fairfax County’s red-light camera up ahead.
However, Delgaudio may be getting more than he asked. At the Board of Supervisors request, the Transportation Committee reviewed information on the costs, benefits and effectiveness of using a photo-monitoring system to enforce traffic signals. At the Sept. 12 meeting, the committee asked staff to draft a budget proposal for the 2004 fiscal year.
“If we can come up with an effective way and an inexpensive way of doing traffic enforcement, I think we ought to look at it. Other than that, it’s nothing that I’m aggressively pursuing,” said William Bogard, committee member, along with Delgaudio and Sally Kurtz.
Even so, Delgaudio is worried. “I think the board loves this. I’m going to fight it,” he said. “You are contributing to gridlock by slowing traffic down. It’s strictly a liberal traffic calming method. I don’t consider it a safety technique or a safety enhancement.”
Delgaudio said he called Fairfax County officials every two weeks for six months before the sign was installed “so that Loudoun drivers would be warned,” he said. “That is considered a Loudoun County intersection at the Fairfax border.”
COUNTY STAFF collaborated with staff from the Sheriff’s Office to obtain information on the photo-monitoring system. State law allows 10 jurisdictions in the state, including Loudoun County, to use the system, limiting the number to 25 cameras for each jurisdiction. The law has a sunset clause of July 1, 2005 that may be dropped for the jurisdictions already using the system.
“It’s not a money-making venture as people perceive,” said Charles Acker, project manager in the operations division of the Office of Transportation Services. “In fact, over the long haul, that’s not the case. The intent of installing the cameras is to deter individuals from running red lights” and possibly reduce accidents caused by the traffic violations, he said.
The City of Fairfax, which installed the system in 1997, found that violation rates decreased by 40 percent during the first year of enforcement. The photo monitoring provides continuous monitoring of violations and does not risk deputies who have to pursue a violator through a red light to issue the citation, the information item stated.
"There is data that shows the system reduces violations, but there is no good data that shows it reduces accidents," said Sheriff Stephen Simpson. "My purpose for any system is for highway safety."
Simpson said he did not support using the photo monitoring system due to the cost and the sunset clause that limits its use. Instead, he favors using a system similar to that used for some of the county's school crossing signs. The same system, which the Sheriff's Office Transportation Safety Committee is studying, involves installing a light on the back of traffic signals to let deputies know when the light changes to red.
VIRGINIA JURISDICTIONS that have used the photo monitoring system agree that the costs to implement and operate the system exceed the revenues it can generate. The system’s initial costs are for equipment, about $50,000 for a wet-film camera, which takes two pictures of violations detected through loops in the road, or $2,000 a month to lease a camera. Two other types of cameras include digital and video cameras, but cost information was not included in the information packet. County staff has not conducted a cost analysis of the program as it would be used in the county.
“When the red lights stop being run, the revenue stream stops. When it becomes a perceived deterrent to running the red lights, it can cost the county revenue to keep those cameras in place,” Acker said. “Really, the idea is to put the deterrent out there and make people aware they are running red lights.”
The county staff plans to gather information on initial capital costs, expected revenues and a projection of when revenues are expected to drop, Acker said. The staff will gather the information to be considered for the 2004 budget, which will be approved this spring. The Virginia Department of Transportation will have to approve any plans developed by the county if the Board of Supervisors agrees to use the cameras.