Leon Valley, Balcones Heights pushing against Texas bill to end red light cameras

By Patty Santos - Reporter

BEXAR COUNTY, Texas - The cities of Leon Valley and Balcones Heights say they are going to fight for the right to govern locally as they face off against state leaders who have introduced bills looking to ban the use of the traffic light cameras.

There are 10 bills filed in the state Legislature. House Bill 1631 is the most recent and has more than 90 co-authors, several of whom are from Bexar County. 

The city of Leon Valley is joining forces with the Texas Traffic Safety Coalition, a conglomerate of municipalities who are against the bills.

Leon Valley City Manager Kelly Kuenstler said the decision to install the 13 red light cameras a year ago was highly supported by the community, and it received an even higher approval rating a year after they were installed.

“We would like the elected officials at the state level to listen to the residents of Leon Valley, to hear testimony from some of our citizens that have seen our program work,” she said.

Officials said the number of red light runners in Leon Valley has decreased, and those who get ticketed often learn their lesson.

“What we want to focus on is that red light cameras save lives, they change driver behavior,” Kuenstler said.  

Balcones Heights officials have been going to Austin to defend the program since the cameras were installed in 2007.

Balcones Heights police Chief Darrel Volz said officials will continue to testify of their effectiveness. He recently spoke before the chairman of the transportation committee.

“We do not have the manpower to assign someone to each of the intersections where we currently have traffic safety cameras,” Volz said in a statement. “With the passage of a ban bill, or one which seeks to restrict the use of traffic safety cameras, the City could see a dramatic shift from progress in traffic safety to increasingly unsafe roadways. The abandonment of the traffic safety cameras could lead to the loss of lives.”

Gov. Greg Abbott is pushing to ban the use of the cameras. He said they cause more rear-end traffic accidents due to sudden braking. But Volz said that statement doesn’t add up with his numbers. There were eight crashes related to traffic lights in 2017, and in 2018, he said, there were only three in the city.

State Rep. Diego Bernal, whose district includes a piece of Balcones Heights, said he opposes the use of cameras based on national trends that raise concerns about public safety and transparency. He is one of the co-author of HB 1631.

Leon Valley Mayor Pro Tem Monica Alcocer said the state got nearly a half-million dollars from the city’s red light camera program in the first year. That money was given to hospitals.

Alcocer said state governments need to let local governments decide what’s best. The decision has been supported by her constituents.

“The central government complains about not wanting to have federal intervention, but they in turn don’t allow the local governments to handle what they think is best,” Alcocer said.

Local leaders say they are currently sending letters to lawmakers to make their case.

“Any type of proposed legislation that we have right now is going to eliminate the city's ability to govern their own to make decisions at a local level,” Kuestler said.

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