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Fairfax City looks to bolster number of red-light cameras

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Local,Virginia,Transportation,Taylor Holland,Fairfax County

Fairfax City officials want to more than double the number of red-light cameras in the area and hope they'll generate enough revenue to create additional police positions.

City Council members will convene Tuesday to discuss plans to expand their red-light program to include two cameras each at 10 intersections they determine to be among the most prone to crashes and dangerous for pedestrians.

Councilman Jeff Greenfield, who started the city's push for red-light cameras in the 1990s, said the program has seen a great deal of success since its most recent startup in July 2011. And with the program's expansion, a hike in citations -- and profits -- is expected to finance the hiring of additional police officers to make court appearances and maintain the program.

"They definitely make a difference at any intersection that's monitored," Greenfield said. "It benefits everyone: pedestrians, cyclists, motorists. It gets you thinking before going through a red light in the city of Fairfax."

The Virginia General Assembly in 2007 passed legislation that gave jurisdictions the option of installing and operating their own red-light camera systems. Fairfax City, along with Arlington County and Alexandria, have taken advantage of that opportunity.

Fairfax County, however, opted not to pursue the cameras after a pilot program came to an end in 2005. Despite the growing number of red-light cameras in the region, the county has "no current plans" to adopt such a program, said Fairfax County police spokesman Bud Walker.

In Fairfax City, though, the program has taken off. In addition to increasing safety on city streets, the money collected from cameras -- located on North Street at University Drive and on Fairfax Boulevard at Fairfax Circle -- is used to sustain and expand the program, Greenfield said.

Drivers caught running red lights or making illegal right turns on red are photographed and sent a $50 online citation, which includes two still photographs and a 12-second video of the vehicle running the light.

The threat of fines has made the program successful in whichever city it's implemented, said AAA Mid-Atlantic spokesman John Townsend.

"Research has shown that it makes intersections safer," Townsend said, noting there are still some kinks to work out with the program.

"They're saving lives, but they're also getting people who are inadvertently and unintentionally running red lights," he said.

David Summers, director of Public Works in Fairfax City, said the cost of the cameras, if approved by the City Council, has not yet been determined. Statistics about money generated from the cameras also was not available.

"We don't make much money from this," said Mayor Scott Silverthorne, who noted he was in favor of adding only up to two more cameras in the city. "We look at this as a safety issue ... and this effort has been very successful with that."

tholland@washingtonexaminer.com

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