Almost two years after it started, Dalton’s red light camera program came to an end on Monday.
The City Council voted 4-0 to cancel a contract with Norcross-based LaserCraft, which operates cameras at the intersections of Waugh Street and Thornton Avenue and Highway 41 and Shugart Road. Mayor David Pennington votes only in the event of a tie.
“We’ve gotten data from the police department but nothing that overwhelmingly proves that it truly helps public safety. Most of the citations were from rolling right-hand turns,” said council member Denise Wood.
The council approved the red light cameras in 2006, and the first cameras went up at Thornton and Waugh in June 2007.
“I was on the council when we voted for it, and what we voted for was a trial period. We’ve had that. The most damaging thing from my point of view is that the (Georgia Department of Transportation) will not service those intersections,” said council member Dick Lowrey.
Public works director Benny Dunn said GDOT requires local governments to assume liability for traffic signals on any state route they place traffic cameras on as well as any “connected” lights. In the case of the Highway 41-Shugart Road intersection, that also includes the I-75 interchange and Tibbs Road.
Dunn said it would cost about $12,000 to replace one of the controller boxes at those intersections. If one needed to be replaced while the cameras were there, the city would have been on the hook. After the cameras come down, GDOT would be responsible for replacing it.
Police Chief Jason Parker said the red light program has been a success.
“We’ve seen what I would describe as remarkable results in terms of accident reductions, especially at Shugart and 41,” he said.
Data provided by Parker shows accidents at that intersection rose from 54 in 2006 to 64 in 2007 but dropped to 44 in 2008. But at Waugh and Thornton, accidents declined before the cameras went in and stayed fairly flat since. There were 19 crashes in 2005, 10 in 2006, 11 in 2007 and 10 in 2008.
Parker said red light violations and traffic accidents have dropped across the city since the cameras went up, which he says is a “residual effect” of the program.
But Pennington noted that accidents have dropped nationwide, not just in Dalton.
“You’ve probably seen that we had the lowest number of highway deaths since 1961. Because of the economy, people are driving less. So it’s hard to compare accidents,” he said.
State law required cities to add an extra second to the amber lights at intersections with traffic cameras, and city officials said there was some evidence that move helped reduce traffic violations at those intersections. They said they will ask GDOT to let them keep that extra second at Shugart and 41, which is a state route.
Some Dalton residents said before the meeting that they didn’t have any strong feelings about the cameras.
“They say they reduce accidents. I don’t know. If they do I guess it’s a good thing,” said Joe Fernandez.
City officials said they stopped issuing citations from the cameras in the first week of March. They said they did not know how long it will take LaserCraft to remove the cameras.
The city paid $4,695 for each “approach” per month, with two approaches (the north and south) covered at the Thornton-Waugh intersection and all three covered at Shugart-Highway 41. The city did not pay once the issuing of citations stopped.
Dalton Daily Citizen
By Charles Oliver