LEON VALLEY, Texas – Red light cameras have become a controversial topic in Texas, with many people pushing to eliminate them. The city of Leon Valley is about to install 11 at nine intersections over the next month, and residents are the ones asking for them.
It's a sight that's become common on Bandera Road in the Leon Valley area: driver after driver speeding through red lights.
The city has "received many complaints about the traffic congestion, the lack of enforcement and red light running on Bandera Road," said Kelly Kuenstler, Leon Valley city manager.
Kuenstler and Leon Valley Police Chief Joseph Salvaggio investigated and requested a traffic study from an independent company.
Those studies showed there were 1,111 crashes in 2016 on Bandera Road. Some 400 of those were major accidents, in which someone had to be taken to a hospital. The report shows only 60 of those accidents were caused by Leon Valley residents.
"We're handling these things, accidents, on a daily basis. One accident takes away our resources and keeps me from being in the neighborhoods," Salvaggio said.
The issue was taken to the citizen-run Police Advisory Committee, which voted overwhelmingly in favor of installing red light cameras.
At the following town hall meeting in January 2017, 100 residents voted, with 93 percent in favor. The City Council followed with a unanimous "yes."
Eight of the nine intersections getting cameras are along Bandera Road. The one at Timco will be running within the next week, as soon as it's fully installed. Cameras at Bandera's intersections with Loop 410 at Wurzbach, El Verde, Grissom, Poss, Huebner and Reindeer Trail will start rolling in mid-February. The Huebner and Evers intersection has also been approved, but cameras won't be installed until traffic lights are updated.
In response to statewide critics claiming these programs are only a way for the city to make extra money, Kuenstler said, "If revenue is generated, it has to go back into traffic enforcement, so that’s exactly what we plan on doing ... putting it right back on the streets."
The company installing and running the cameras, American Traffic Solutions, will not charge an installation fee. It will, however, will charge the city $4,500 per camera per month. That adds up to $594,000 a year for 11 cameras.
Salvaggio and the City Council believe fines from violators will easily cover that cost.
"The people that are causing those accidents, that are being the violators, they're the ones that are going to pay for the program," Salvaggio said.
If violator fines cover the monthly camera leases, taxpayer dollars won't be spent. If for some reason the fines do not cover the lease costs, the city would have to use taxpayer dollars. Salvaggio said if that were to happen, Leon Valley is able to get out of the contract to avoid that.
"If we're losing money, we can get out of the contract at any time. I can't tell you taxpayer money wouldn't be going to it at some time, but based on what I've seen, taxpayer money won't be going to it," he said.
The fine for running red lights will be $75. It is a civil violation, so it won't go on a driver's record.
Drivers will also be able to appeal the ticket through the city.
American Traffic Solutions installs the cameras and collects footage, but that footage will then be passed along to a certified Leon Valley peace officer hired specifically to review every infraction before a citation is ever issued.
"This is not the company having the ability to dictate how these citations are going to happen. We’re going to maintain full control. We’ll have an officer be able to look and make sure it’s identifiable and there are a list of things that somebody can come in and say, 'I wasn’t driving that vehicle. That’s not my vehicle. I sold the vehicle.' There’s a lot of fail-safes. At the end of the day, if they come in they sit down with us, we’ll have conversations. We’re going to be reasonable," Salvaggio said.
As soon as the first camera at Timco starts rolling in about a week, there will be a 30-day grace period. Only warnings will be given out while the city publicizes the cameras. The city has already been spreading the word on social media.