Pasco News

U.S. 19 to get longer yellow signals

NEW PORT RICHEY - Despite some opposition, New Port Richey leaders maintained support Tuesday night for red-light cameras at several U.S. 19 intersections.

City council members also applauded news that yellow signals will become slightly longer at crossroads with the automated enforcement devices.

The city installed the cameras a few years ago to catch violators who run through red signals at busy intersections. Appeals of citations generated by red light cameras previously were handled by the courts. This year, state legislators transferred the responsibility of hearing initial appeals to cities and counties.

So council members passed an ordinance Tuesday 4-0 to revise rules for its red-light cameras. The changes will mean the city will hire a special magistrate to hear appeals.

Mayor Bob Consalvo was absent Tuesday.

The new appeal arrangement means the city could add up to $250 for its expenses on top of the standard fine of $158, for a maximum penalty of $408.
Fatalities from traffic accidents from running red lights are most preventable, Councilwoman Jude Debella Thomas remarked.

Councilman Jeff Starkey, however, reported that the Pasco Metropolitan Planning Organization last week requested research on crash information before and after the red-light cameras were installed at intersections. Starkey took over as the city's MPO representative at last week's meeting.

In addition, Starkey said, the Florida Department of Transportation would extend the yellow signal from 4.3 seconds to 4.7 seconds on U.S. 19 crossroads with the cameras.

Kristen Carson, the spokeswoman for the FDOT Tampa district office, confirmed the longer yellow signals in a communiqué she forwarded.

FDOT research suggests the longer yellow interval would better accommodate the reaction times of Florida drivers, many of them older motorists.

For all locations on municipal, county and state roadways that have the red-light cameras, the yellow timing changes must be completed by Dec. 31, according to the FDOT directive.

The timing change on remaining intersections on the state highway system must wrap up by June 30, 2015.

Before council discussion, two residents voiced their distrust of the automated cameras and opposition to a magistrate hearing appeals.

Alexander Snitker complained that the cash-strapped city could face conflicts or abuses under a magistrate hired by the city.

"Due process will not be followed," Snitker said. "People will be unfairly levied and fined and taxed."

Snitker cited a university study that increasing the length of the yellow signal would decrease accidents by 80 percent. Snitker advocated 5.5 seconds for the yellow signal timing.

Danielle Alexandre questioned the impartiality of a city employee who would in effect become a judge. "In essence you are taking people's rights away," she said.

Most people ticketed might not realize they would have an option to appeal a magistrate's decision to local courts, Alexandre said.

City officials, however, said they would hire a contractor to fill the magistrate position, most likely among attorneys or former traffic court judges with experience in the field.

Michael Malterer "implored" council members to ask why the city has red-light cameras.

"The intent of red-light cameras is to make money, not to make us safer," Malterer commented. "Should the city be balancing its checkbooks on traffic citations?"

Violation notices also would leave a "bad taste" in the mouths of visitors to Chasco Fiesta, Malterer said. Shoppers might flee from stores along U.S. 19 to avoid the risk of a ticket.

Malterer would like to see a referendum question about red-light cameras placed on the ballot of the next city election.