Tigard is the latest Portland-area community jumping on the red light camera bandwagon.
The Tigard City Council directed city staff to move forward Tuesday, May 9, with a program to install cameras at certain intersections that will be able to catch drivers in the act of running through stoplights.
The city would contract with a private vendor that would provide the cameras, with the city providing staff to analyze camera footage and handle a projected increase in traffic citations. No vendor has been selected, and Tigard Police Cmdr. Jamey McDonald said the next step would be soliciting bid proposals to find one.
The intersections where cameras will be installed if the program is implemented have not been chosen, either. Police surveyed four intersections along Highway 99W and found all would be "feasible" for cameras to be set up, but McDonald said he might prefer a different group of intersections to start with.
"We'd obviously go back and re-survey all of the intersections," McDonald said. "And then there's actually … other intersections that might be more crucial that weren't really feasible to do a survey at that would be better to put lights at, that are actually more dangerous." He listed the intersection of Highway 99W and 72nd Avenue as an example.
In a memorandum to the City Council, McDonald said the potential net revenue from a red light camera program is about $400,000 per year. While implementing the program would have ongoing annual expenses of about $500,000 — including hiring a full-time police officer and five new full-time court clerks — it would bring in about $900,000 in revenue every year from an expected increase in traffic fines, he estimated.
Nadine Robinson, Tigard's administrative services manager, said city staff anticipate about 11,000 new citations per year, necessitating five additional court clerks to handle the increase.
While the program stands to bring in close to half a million dollars for Tigard every year after it is implemented, if the revenue and expense estimates are accurate, Mayor John L. Cook said his chief concern is safety.
McDonald said red light cameras can improve the safety of motorists and police officers alike. He was "indifferent" to them, he said, before researching the idea more in-depth.
"The biggest reason that we're in support of this, as density grows, as traffic congestion continues to get worse: It is an effective tool to help us improve safety at a number of intersections that are most critical for traffic safety in the city," McDonald said.
Right now, McDonald said it is difficult or even hazardous for officers to enforce red lights at a number of major intersections in Tigard, particularly along Highway 99W. In some cases, he added, it would be dangerous for a police interceptor to pull out in pursuit of an offender without potentially creating a traffic hazard of its own.
City Council President Jason Snider said he is "very supportive" of the idea of installing red light cameras in Tigard.
"I think it makes sense," he said. "I think it keeps everybody safer and improves our community, so I'm in support of it."
Many jurisdictions have a "warning period" when they first install red light cameras at an intersection before using them to identify offenders and send actual citations, with McDonald listing two different approaches in neighboring Beaverton and Tualatin as examples. The commander said the Tigard Police Department would "educate the public as much as possible before we turn these on and issue citations."
The City Council will also need to approve a change to city code allowing the red light cameras to operate, as well as a budgetary provision to hire the staff needed for the program, before the cameras can be implemented.
The city did conduct a public survey before Tuesday's presentation. McDonald said in his memo that 62 percent of the 300 respondents — randomly contacted registered voters — indicated support for a red light camera program to just 31 percent opposed.
By Mark Miller
Assistant Editor, The Times