Police explore red light camera options

City officials are discussing installing red light cameras on Highway 101 and Highway 20, one of the most high-traffic intersections in Newport. While no decision has been made yet on whether or not to install any red-light cameras in Newport, the Newport Police Department does grapple with how to patrol intersections with a high volume of drivers who run a red light, including this one. (Photos by Madeline Shannon)

NEWPORT — Two high-traffic intersections where drivers are flaunting the law may get red light cameras.

That’s according to a staff report from Newport Police Chief Jason Malloy, who has been in conversations with red light camera service provider Sensys America over the last six months. Malloy discussed two intersections here with a high volume of traffic and car accidents and hundreds of red light violations — the busy confluence of highways 101 and 20 and Highway 20 and Harney Street.

“Both of these intersections have had several near-miss crashes related to red light violations,” said Malloy in his June 17 report. “Our patrol teams were directed to provide extra patrols in these areas. Officers were able to dedicate some time to red light enforcement, however available time to dedicate to only two locations is minimal due to other required duties.”

Part of the months-long discussion with Sensys America representatives included company workers installing red light cameras on those intersections for 24-hour periods as part of a study, which showed blatant red light violations, Malloy’s staff report said. 

During the February study, 145 total violations were found on Highway 101 southbound and Highway 20 alone. For Highway 101 westbound and Highway 20, that number was 590 violations and for westbound Highway 20 and Harney Street, that number was 117. Highway 20 eastbound and Harney Street saw 174 red light violations in total. 

The majority of these violations were made by drivers who turned right on red lights at speeds above 10 miles per hour, the report said.
“Additionally, the [cameras] captured several hundred low-speed traffic control device violations at each intersection,” Malloy said in his report. “The study was conducted in Newport’s off season when traffic is minimal. Based upon historical traffic data and significantly increased traffic on weekends and summer traffic, the expected amount of violations is several thousand per year.”

After reviewing that February report, Mayor Dean Sawyer, himself a former Newport Police officer, was disturbed by the findings. 

“When I worked for the police department, we always tried to address that,” he said of drivers who ran red lights. “It’s hard to get out after them. Once the light changes, you can’t just go through the intersection.”

Despite challenges in enforcing red light laws with police efforts, Sawyer divulged he personally didn’t like red light cameras. If a tourist gets a ticket after running a red light, there aren’t a lot of options when they can’t come to court. However, red light cameras do provide a way to limit accidents and enforce traffic laws, Sawyer added.

“It’s a dangerous intersection,” Sawyer said of Highway 101 and Highway 20. “We need to address this somehow.”

Sensys America does all the camera maintenance, according to a program report from an unknown company representative. The report states the company usually sends out reports monthly, containing any and all information collected by the company from the red light cameras for that city. 

Maintenance of the actual equipment and installation aren’t usually paid by the cities the company serves, the report said, and after a fixed monthly fee is paid to the company, the rest of the revenue generated from the red light cameras stays with the city. A per-paid-violation fee is also available to the city to pay for the red light camera systems.

“The advantage of using this type of pay schedule is that there is no monthly balance during low volume periods and revenue is always generated,” the report read. “During summer, I would expect a significant increase in violations. Since your traffic is heavily impacted by tourism, I recommend this, or the Hybrid Pricing option.”

The fixed price schedule included in the company report puts the monthly cost at $4,999 for months where less than 400 citations are issued, with that number jumping to $5,900 for months when between 400-800 citations are issued and $6,700 a month during which more than 800 citations go out to violators. On top of that, the per violation fee is $60.

However, that might not end up being the price per month the city pays to Sensys America if the company’s services are contracted. The hybrid pricing option is so flexible that the company will formulate any pricing and payment structure city officials want, the company report said.
“This is very flexible and we can work with you on what makes sense for Newport,” the company report said of the hybrid pricing. 

If the city installs red light cameras, the city council would have to approve the purchase and installation of red light camera systems, as well as the company the city chooses. That decision so far isn’t on a regular Newport City Council meeting agenda, although Sawyer expects it will come up again for discussion in the fall. 

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