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City Preps for Photo Red Restart

Citation-issuing cameras to be placed at as many as 10 Fairfax locations by next year.

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As many as 10 photo red light enforcement cameras could be installed at Fairfax city intersections in the early months of 2008.

Red light runners in the City of Fairfax may soon being seeing red. The City of Fairfax is currently searching for a contractor to provide analysis at several city intersections in advance of the reinstatement of "photo red" cameras, which take video stills of drivers who run red lights and automatically issue traffic citations.

The program, which has not been present in Fairfax since 2005 when Virginia’s General Assembly allowed the law calling for the cameras to expire, could be functioning as soon as the early months of 2008, according to Alex Verzosa, transportation director for the City of Fairfax.

"It’s a safety issue, we don’t want people running red lights," said Verzosa. "The police cannot be at every intersection enforcing this … so this is a way to free them up to deal with important tasks while still dealing with the people who run these lights."

After an analysis has been completed on possible intersection locations for the cameras, a list will be compiled and submitted to the Virginia Department of Transportation to be reviewed against a list of guidelines, including the intersection’s safety record and traffic volume, according to Verzosa. After approval, the city will move to install traffic cameras as soon as possible.

As many as 10 traffic cameras could be installed by next year, he added.

THE PHOTO RED program is not new to Fairfax. In May 1997, the city became the first municipal jurisdiction in the Commonwealth to utilize the program when it installed cameras at eight different intersections.

Those same intersections will be part of the initial list of intersections to be analyzed for camera placement, according to Verzosa.

For the city, the results were quickly apparent, as a high number of violations were captured on the cameras, he said. Over time, those numbers fluctuated, but showed a general downward turn, going down about 20 percent from 1999 to 2003, according to city figures.

The decrease was a direct testament to the program’s ability to deter would-be red light runners, according to Lt. Mike Rizzo of the traffic enforcement division of the Fairfax City Police Department.

"When people don’t know where these [cameras] are at, but they know they’re there, you start to see more people stopping," said Rizzo. "You saw that in the numbers over the years that we had photo red … people knew not to run red lights in Fairfax."

The number of citations per month went down so low that the revenue that the cameras generated served only to allow the program to break even, according to Verzosa.

COMMON COMPLAINTS that the traffic cameras cannot make judgments based on individual factors associated with each violation — such as someone experiencing a personal emergency — are not as great of a concern for the city as traffic safety, according to Fairfax city manager Bob Sisson.

"If someone is in the middle of an emergency, does that emergency prioritize higher over the safety of these other drivers in that intersection?" Sisson asked. "These cameras are about improving the collective safety of our intersections and that is what they do."

Given the near universal nature of the violation, the cameras will be heavily utilized, said Rizzo.

"You can put any police car at any intersection and you’ll catch people running red lights," he said. "If we can use these cameras, it’s really allowing you to not have to watch this intersection and you can focus your available manpower on other issues."

Verzosa said that he is sure that the program will create a positive impact on city streets.

"It will be a good thing for the U.S., not just Fairfax," Verzosa said. "If we can get this program implemented all over the United States, it will make the streets safer."

"People are not supposed to run red lights, yet they continue to do it, and this is a way to stop that."