Red-light cameras icon
Danny Drake

MIDDLE TOWNSHIP — Red-light video cameras are not expected to get the green light in Middle or Hamilton townships anytime soon.

 Both Middle Township in Cape May County and Hamilton Township in Atlantic County have asked permission from the state Department of Transportation to install the cameras at busy intersections in hopes they will cut down on accidents, and raise money.

But the DOT has no plans to expand the list of 25 towns included in its five-year pilot program, spokesman Timothy Greeley said.

“The idea behind the pilot was to collect enough data to ultimately make a determination whether these cameras help improve safety and reduce accidents at these locations that have exhibited a troubled past for people running red lights,” he said.

The pilot study will run through 2014 to give the state a chance to collect and analyze data at the 59 intersections where cameras were installed.

No cameras are found in Atlantic, Cape May or Cumberland counties. In Ocean County, only Brick Township has them.

Preliminary results from 2010 suggest the cameras are working to curb traffic accidents. After the first year, total crashes were down 45 percent at two intersections in Newark, according to a state DOT report published in November. The number of violations steadily decreased after the cameras were installed and tickets began to be issued. The DOT said it had too little data in the first year to draw any conclusions about the cameras’ effectiveness.

Violators receive fines ranging from $85 to $140, depending on the location of the intersection in relation to construction or school zones. Of the $85, towns keep $46, counties get $27.50 and state courts get $11.50.

Lawrence Township in Mercer County saw a flurry of appeals that created a backlog in its municipal court after it installed a red-light camera at a single intersection, according to published reports. But towns in southern New Jersey said their municipal courts can handle any surge in appeals.

“That won’t be a problem here,” Hamilton Township Administrator Mike Jacobs said. “Because of our downsizing, we’ve gone from 70 to 49 officers in our Police Department. Our courts could definitely handle the additional work. The case load has steadily gone down.”

Hamilton Township applied to install sets of cameras in two locations on Wrangleboro Road, at Route 322 and the Atlantic City Expressway.

“For me, the bottom line is about safety,” Township Committeewoman Amy Gatto said. “If we think it’s something that will improve safety in our town and at little to no cost to taxpayers, I’m willing to look at it.”

In Cape May County, Middle Township wants to put cameras at two busy intersections on Route 9, at Stone Harbor Boulevard and Route 47.

Mayor Dan Lockwood said he is convinced the cameras will cut down on accidents, raise money for the township and give police, firefighters and rescue squads more time to devote to other matters.

“It’s hard to argue against it, especially when it generates revenue for the municipality to deal with these issues,” Lockwood said. “They’ve shown in many areas that they reduce traffic accidents. People are less likely to blow red lights and speed around corners and abuse the right-on-red rule.”

Some states that employ red-light cameras have shortened the duration of the yellow light at the intersections. This presumably would generate more red-light violations. But New Jersey warned towns their camera permits would be revoked if they did so.

Greeley said towns that find their court systems are inundated with red-light camera cases are under no obligation to continue using them.

Several states have outlawed red-light cameras, while voters elsewhere have launched public initiatives to repeal them. And the National Motorists Association, a driver-advocacy group based in Waunakee, Wis., says the automated systems penalize drivers for poor traffic engineering at the expense of due process.

“If they simply extended the yellow lights at these intersections, they wouldn’t get any business,” said Steve Carrellas, spokesman for the New Jersey chapter. “It’s immoral if a town puts a camera in without fixing the underlying problems in the intersection. It’s not just motorists deciding to be lazy and running a light. It’s normally a problem in the intersection that is not uniformly helping them to obey it.”

Hamilton Township Mayor Roger Silva voted against installing the cameras.

“My position has always been I’m against raising revenue on the backs of our residents, visitors or shoppers,” he said. “The gridlock these cameras will cause will create more accidents than they prevent.” Silva said he thinks the Township Committee was swayed by the prospect of raising new revenue through the tickets.

“I don’t want to look for gimmicks to make up your shortfalls,” Silva said. “I don’t think writing tickets was ever supposed to be a revenue stream.”

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