Savannah, Ga., Ponders Expansion of Its Traffic Camera Program

Officials believe the technology is responsible for reducing the number of crashes at some intersections by more than half.

by Eric Curl, Savannah Morning News / October 1, 2018

(TNS) — About 15 years after the first red-light camera was installed in Savannah, city officials are now evaluating whether the systems could be expanded to other intersections at the request of some Savannah City Council members.

The city currently has cameras operating on the southside along Abercorn Street Extension where the high-traffic road intersects with White Bluff Road, DeRenne Avenue, Mall Boulevard and Montgomery Crossroad.

Drivers caught by the cameras running red lights are issued $70 citations, although no points are placed against the driver's license. In 2017, the city collected $727,880 in revenue from the fines.

The city pays Redflex Traffic Systems $166,800 annually to provide the photo enforcement software and system maintenance under a contract that the city council renewed on Aug. 30 for another two years. The city has contracted with Redflex for the service since the city began operating the first camera in late October 2003 at Abercorn's intersection with White Bluff Road.

"The goal was to modify driver behavior," said Stephen Henry, traffic engineering administrator with the city. "When people are aware there is a camera in place, they won't take the chances they might have."

The cameras have reduced the number of right-angle crashes -- the most severe crashes associated with red-light running -- with some intersections experiencing decreases by more than half, according to city officials. For Abercorn and White Bluff, the city reported that the average number of right-angle crashes each year has dropped from 11 to 4.4 since the cameras were installed. However, city staff say they are not sure it would be appropriate to install any more systems.

"We don't want red-light cameras to be the solution for every intersection," said city spokesperson Michelle Gavin. "The intention is to make the intersection safe, and we need to look at all avenues to figure out what we need to do."

Staff is evaluating the possibility after Alderman Tony Thomas suggested during the Aug. 30 meeting that a camera system may be needed at Abercorn's intersection with Rio Road by Savannah Mall.

"I have probably received 30 or 40 concerns over the last few years about dump trucks that are blowing that light loaded with hauls that are doing 50 to 60 miles per hour," Thomas said. "It's happening every day."

Alderman Van Johnson also requested that a couple intersections along 37th Street be considered, but the city's ability to install red-light cameras is now regulated by the state in order to prevent the technology from being used solely as a budget booster.

The legislation adopted by lawmakers in 2008 requires local government to consider alternative methods for reducing red-light running and demonstrate that their is a true need for a camera before a permit will be granted. Reports showing the impact of the cameras must also be submitted and the governments must apply to renew the permits every three years.

The first intersections that got the cameras were the larger "obvious" ones with the highest volumes of traffic, said Mobility and Parking Services Director Sean Brandon. And while the cameras are not meant as a revenue generator, the affordability of the systems has to be considered, Brandon said.

"It's an ongoing expense," he said. "At very large intersections, they can pay for themselves."

©2018 Savannah Morning News (Savannah, Ga.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.