Manatee County activates more red-light cameras

eearl@bradenton.comJune 18, 2013 

MANATEE -- Red-light cameras in Manatee County have been effective in stopping potentially fatal accidents, according to reports that show a decline in red light violations since installation last October.

The county activated four more red-light cameras Tuesday and is looking to have at least one more operating by next year.

The new cameras are at the westbound intersection on State Road 70 and Tara Boulevard in East Manatee. The other two are at the northbound and southbound intersections of U.S. 301 and 60th Avenue East in Ellenton.

During a county commission meeting Tuesday, County Code Enforcement Chief Joe Fenton said a fourth red-light camera at the southbound intersection of 26th Street and Cortez Road West in Bradenton will be active in about a week. Fenton said Florida Department of Transportation switch-box connections are needed to activate the camera.

The new traffic cameras join existing ones at the northbound and southbound intersections of 34th Street West and 53rd Avenue West and at the northbound and southbound intersections of 15th Street East and 57th Avenue East, as well as seven in Bradenton.

Last month, there were 367 violations at the four county

intersections with cameras, down 44.5 percent from 661 in October 2012 and down 72 percent from 1,297 violations last November.

Violation fines are $158.

Fenton said the red-light cameras enhance safety and are meant to be revenue neutral. The cameras have only earned the county $396 more than its expenses to date.

For Melissa Wandall, whose husband, Mark Wandall, was killed in 2003 by a red-light runner at the intersection of Tara Boulevard and State Road 70, the cameras are about more than collecting on tickets.

"This is not about making people pay for anything," Wandall said. "It is about educating and raising awareness around red-light running."

Wandall considers the installation of the red-light cameras throughout Manatee County, especially the one where her husband was killed, as a "trophy" to the community for making better traffic decisions.

"I promised I would make a reason for what happened at that intersection," Wandall said. "You don't want anyone walking in your shoes when you know it's preventable."

Another red-light camera is being planned for the southbound intersection of U.S. 41 and Cortez Road. Fenton said installation is delayed until the beginning of next year by construction at the intersection.

"We do not want to put lives in the way," Fenton said.

Red-light camera sites are determined by traffic accident data, which is submitted to Xerox for study to see if the intersection qualifies for a camera.

One criticism red-light cameras face is the length of yellow lights. Some Manatee County residents question if the length of time for yellow lights is long enough for all motorists to safely come to a stop.

Fenton said yellow-light timing is "where they need to be" in Bradenton.

County Commissioner Betsy Benac said while federal law for the timing of yellow lights may be different, Bradenton's traffic lights comply with state law.

"We have to comply with state law," Benac said. "We don't have the option of jumping to federal law."

Wandall said she would like red-light cameras to be as effective as possible in preventing accidents without the community feeling they are a "gotcha" gimmick.

"If my husband's name is going to be on a bill, I want it to be the best it can be," Wandall said, adding she is happy with the camera locations.

"This wasn't just about getting a camera on Tara Boulevard, but about getting them wherever they are needed based on priority."

Commissioner Vanessa Baugh said she is proud of Wandall's red-light camera initiative.

"I admire Melissa for walking the walk, staying faithful and getting it done," Baugh said.

Erica Earl, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7081

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