Fairfax expands red-light camera program to six intersections

Fairfax\'s red light program has been running since August 2011, when Virginia passed a law allowing the cameras. (WTOP/Ari Ashe)

FAIRFAX, Va. – The City of Fairfax has approved a plan to increase the number of red-light camera locations from three intersections to six after a City Council vote on Tuesday night.

The move expands the number of overall cameras from four to seven.

“The number of violations at the new intersections will go down and that’s going to make commuting through the City of Fairfax safer,” said Police Chief Rick Rappaport.

Fairfax established a red-light camera program in 1997 under a 10-year pilot program in the state. The program ended when the state’s law allowing red-light camera enforcement expired in 2005.

However, Fairfax restarted the program when Virginia passed a new law a few years later to allow the cameras. That program has been running since August 2011.

Currently Fairfax has cameras at the following locations:

  • Fairfax Boulevard (U.S. 29) at Fairfax Circle eastbound
  • Fairfax Boulevard (U.S. 29) at Fairfax Circle westbound
  • University Boulevard at North Street

According to police, the cameras have generated 20,525 tickets and netted about $500,000 in revenue. Red-light camera tickets in Virginia are $50, which is less than the $75 fine in Maryland and $150 in the District.

“I believe we have been successful at changing driver behavior and it shows because the violations at the existing intersections have slowed down,” said Rappaport, who adds that overall net revenue has dropped to about $25,000 per month.

Red-light camera tickets in Virginia do not carry points because they are civil offenses. Under Virginia law, drivers also must be warned about red-light photo enforcement at an intersection. Also, both are true in Maryland.

Ultimately, the Fairfax City Council agreed to add three new cameras because it didn’t want to overburden the police department. Rappaport told lawmakers that eight to 10 intersections would require another officer to process the citations. Mayor Scott Silverthorne and the City Council said they were unwilling to fund that.

“There are efficiencies in moving to a red light program, but there also ought to be cost savings. So asking for additional staffing doesn’t sit particularly well with me. If this is a true priority, you should reallocate existing staffing to meet the demand,” Silverthorne said.

It’s unclear exactly when the cameras will be installed because engineering and design will be necessary. However, it could be online before the end of the year. The locations include the following:

  • Fairfax Boulevard (U.S. 29) at Plantation Parkway (east)
  • Chain Bridge Road (Va. Route 123) at Eaton Place (north)
  • Main Street at Pickett Road (west)

Critics of red-light cameras believe cities like Fairfax are solely in it for the money, not for safety. Rappaport admits there has been no substantial drop in accidents from red light cameras so far, but points out that since the city is so small, there aren’t many accidents to begin with.

“When you’re dealing with four or five accidents per year [at an intersection], there’s not much room to drop. But it’s important to note that there was no increase in any type of accident. They all stayed the same or went down,” Rappaport said.

“But the violation numbers have gone down significantly. And when you reduce the violation numbers, you reduce the risk of that one person running a red light and causing a serious or fatal accident.”

However, council members Steven Stombres and Eleanor Schmidt expressed concern about the numbers.

“If there was compelling safety data, I would support adding new cameras. But cutting to the chase, I don’t think it’s worth expanding the program,” said Stombres.

Fairfax contracts with Australia-based Redflex Traffic Systems to run the red-light camera program. Redflex also has a contract with the City of Alexandria. But the contract between Fairfax and Redflex expires later this year and Fairfax is currently evaluating several bids. One is from American Traffic Solutions, which operates red-light camera programs in Arlington and Falls Church.

“The benefit is that there are a lot of good companies out there that offer good products and it’ll be interesting to see where we go with it,” said Rappaport.

Fairfax County is exploring a red-light camera program. In March, Supervisor Michael R. Frey, R-Sully, asked the Fairfax County Department of Transportation to study the possibility after an Insurance Institute for Highway Safety report found the Arlington camera program increased overall safety.

Transportation Director Tom Biesiadny tells WTOP that his agency is working with the Fairfax County Police Department to put together a report, which should be completed in the fall.

City of Fairfax red-light presentation

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