March 30, 2009 in City

Getting There: Fuzzy pavement lines sap red-light camera revenue

By The Spokesman-Review
 

If you think you have trouble seeing pavement lines in March in the Inland Northwest, consider the problem it presents for police trying to determine if someone blew a red light under Spokane’s new red light photo enforcement program.

Without a clear stop line showing the demarcation of an intersection, it’s more difficult to prove that a driver entered the intersection after the light turned red. Studded tires and road sand essentially erase many of the city’s painted traffic lines over the course of the winter. At Division Street and Francis Avenue, where the photo-red system has been in place since last fall, the stop lines disappeared.

As a result, 301 potential red-light violations captured on camera had to be thrown out, police Officer Teresa Fuller said at a recent meeting of the City Council’s Public Safety Committee.

That’s about $37,000 in potential fines lost to the photo-red enforcement program, a revenue source to the city budget.

Council President Joe Shogan said the problem needs attention from city crews.

“We can’t have a system that depends on lines on pavement and we have no lines,” he said during the meeting.

The rejected cases came from a total of about 1,200 violations recorded by red-light cameras since the system went into effect at four city intersections Nov. 1. The cameras are pointed at the north- and southbound lanes on Division at Francis; the northbound lanes on Hamilton Street at Mission Avenue; and the southbound lanes on Browne Street at Sprague Avenue.

Fuller said the city is getting better-than-expected yield from the $124 tickets issued to the owners of vehicles caught on cameras running the red lights. They had anticipated payment from 70 percent of owners, but received money for 75 percent of violations issued in November.

Motorists have 30 days to pay the tickets, which, like parking tickets, do not count against the owner’s driving record. After that, a $25 late fee is added, and the tickets can be turned over to a collection agency.

So far, the system is covering the cost of operating it through a contactor in Scottsdale, Ariz., but has not earned much profit. Getting the lines re-established would allow the city to make money, Fuller said.

City officials are so pleased with the red-light cameras that they hope to add three to five new cameras at other intersections in coming months.

They will likely place those at intersections that have the highest numbers of accidents, Fuller said.

Candidates are Second Avenue and Thor Street; Third Avenue and Freya Street; Second Avenue and Maple Street; Browne and Third Avenue; and Fifth Avenue and Maple Street.

Neighborhood representatives have asked for red-light cameras for some locations, including Wellesley Avenue and Maple Street.

“We want to try to spread these out,” Fuller said.

Stud deadline looms

Studded snow tires have to be removed by Wednesday in Washington. State transportation officials said there is little chance that the April 1 deadline for removing them would be extended as a result of late-season wintry weather. Violators are subject to a $124 fine; motorists from neighboring states with later studded-tire deadlines are not excluded.

In Idaho, studded tires are legal until April 30, and in Montana, May 31.

Also, large vehicles in Washington that are required to carry tire chains won’t have to do so starting April 1.

Road work

•Work is scheduled to begin April 6 on a major road renovation in northwest Spokane, which will close Alberta and Cochran streets.

Last week, the City Council approved a $3.8 million contract with Spokane Rock Products Inc. to rebuild Alberta and Cochran streets north of Northwest Boulevard.

The project is funded under the city’s 10-year street bond program approved by voters in 2004. It involves excavation and curb-to-curb rebuilding of Alberta from Northwest Boulevard to Francis Avenue and Cochran from Northwest Boulevard to the crossover intersection at Driscoll Boulevard and Alberta.

Intersections at Northwest Boulevard, Garland, Rowan, and Wellesley avenues will remain open to traffic. The designated detours are on Northwest Boulevard for northbound traffic and Ash Street for southbound traffic.

The low bid came in $731,000 below an engineering estimate. Other bidders were Half Moon Construction, $3.97 million; Inland Asphalt Co., $4.2 million; Red Diamond Construction, $4.3 million; and Poe Asphalt Paving, $4.65 million.

•The Keller Ferry on state Highway 21 between Lincoln and Ferry counties will be closed on Tuesday for vessel repairs.

•Also on Tuesday, one of the eastbound lanes of Interstate 90 near the Thor-Freya exit will be closed starting at 9 a.m. so crews can repair an exit sign and damaged light equipment.

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