UNION COUNTY — New Jersey’s controversial red-light camera program is likely to go dark in a few weeks as the five-year pilot program expires with no legislative push to renew it.
Towns in Union County received notification Oct. 29 from the N.J. Department of Transportation that the program will expire Dec. 16 and municipalities “will lack statutory authority to continue the operation of traffic control signal monitoring systems” after that date.
Towns were also advised that they were to expedite submission of their final data reports to the NJDOT.
There is little hope the five-year pilot program that generated millions for municipalities like Linden, who made approximately $1.2 million in annual revenue, will be renewed either.
In fact, Gov. Chris Christie has expressed concerns about the program since 2012.
Initially, Christie was in favor of the cameras, but that changed in 2013 when complaints against red-light camera violations began to mount. The governor said recently he had problems with the administration of the program and thought it was “a real problem.”
In September, when Christie was on NJ101.5’s “As the Governor” radio show, the governor elaborated on his position, distancing himself more from the program.
“If you’re going to have a pilot program, you have to let the program go to its end and then evaluate the data when you get there. As we are beginning to gather the data, as we are nearing the end of the red-light camera pilot, I see some real disturbing things,” Christie said, adding “I will tell you that my gut feeling on this one is that I don’t favor red light cameras.”
In order to renew the program, the state assembly and senate would need to pass legislation that would then require the governor’s signature or veto. A governor’s veto can only be overturned with a supermajority vote of 27 of the 40 state senators and 54 of the 80 state assemblymen.
So far, no bill has been introduced and according to legislative sources, none is expected.
There are 76 camera-equipped intersections in 25 New Jersey municipalities, including Rahway, Linden, Union, Springfield and Roselle. Because towns generate a considerable amount of revenue from red-light camera violations, elected officials have pushed for the program to be renewed and they have had help from the New Jersey State League of Municipalities in this effort.
William Dressel Jr., executive director of the league, wrote the governor in early November urging that the program continue.
“The purpose of these cameras is to enhance safety by discouraging drivers from improperly passing through red lights,” he wrote, adding that the New Jersey Department of Transportation program report found the red-light camera program has “effectively enhanced safety by changing driver behavior.”
At the end of October approximately 30 municipal officials and public safety officials went to Trenton to urge legislators to renew the pilot program but were not given much hope that their pleas were heard.
Union Police Director Dan Zieser said last week the township saw a reduction by nearly half in red-light camera violations in the last year, which he felt was a positive sign.
“If people are complaining about the yellow light being too short, that is because they are going faster than the speed limit allows for that intersection,” he added, pointing out that he felt the cameras helped the township, and did not not cause more accidents.
Since the pilot program was introduced five years ago, both motorists and legislators have levied objections.
As recently as August, 17,000 red-light violations had to be dismissed because of a glitch in the system that prevented drivers from receiving their citations within the 90-day time frame required by law. Under state law, if a ticket has not been issued within 90 days it must be dismissed.
Linden, Rahway, Roselle Park and Union all had violations in that glitch which involved American Traffic Solutions, the company that monitors the red-light cameras for these towns and others throughout the state.
ATS, the company that provides red-light cameras to 18 of the 25 towns in the state’s pilot program, has had problems before.
In 2012, cameras had to be suspended because officials determined that 63 of the cameras in the state were not tested to ensure the yellow lights were timed in accordance with the law.
Motorists have fought the program, and in some cases legally challenged it, maintaining that the yellow lights do not give drivers enough time to put on their brakes. ATS reached a $4.2 million settlement in 2013 with nearly 500,000 motorists that were ticketed in New Jersey. Law enforcement, on the other hand, has strongly supported the cameras as a public safety measure but opponents argued that drivers attempting to avoid a ticket suddenly stop, which causes rear-end collisions. Also questioned was the length of the yellow light phase and whether it provided a long enough warning to drivers.
Supporters of the cameras have noted that while rear-end collisions can be costly, they are not nearly as costly as the alternative. A driver going through a red light is more likely to strike the side of another vehicle, causing more severe damage and creating a situation that is far more life threatening.
ATS noted in an interview with LocalSource in September 2013 that the New Jersey law enacting the program specified yellow light timing be set to a minimum of three seconds if at least 85 percent of vehicle traffic approaching a traffic signal was traveling at 25 miles-per-hour or less.