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Stoplight cameras have Port Lavaca drivers seeing red

By JJ VELASQUEZ
April 11, 2010 at 11 p.m.
Updated April 10, 2010 at 11:11 p.m.

Red light cameras were installed at this Port Lavaca intersection in January 2009. Residents have sinced  started a petition, which they hope will gather enough signatures to force a charter election on the cameras.

INTERSECTIONS WITH RED LIGHT CAMERAS

Half League Road and State Highway 35

Smith Road and State Highway 35

Travis Street and State Highway 35

RED LIGHT CAMERA REPORTS

Texas Transportation Code §707.004 requires local authorities to monitor and annually report to Texas Department of Transportation statistical information on crashes occurring at intersections monitored by red light camera enforcement systems. The Code requires TxDOT to publish the information submitted by the local authorities.

SOURCE: Texas Department of Transportation

PORT LAVACA - Carl Baugh hasn't paid a ticket he received after cameras caught him running a red light.

He doesn't plan on it, either.

"It's a game they (the city) are playing," Baugh said. "And it's all about revenue."

Baugh isn't paying his ticket as a form of protest to a Port Lavaca traffic signal ordinance he believes is unconstitutional and intended only to drive up revenue, not enforce the law.

The ordinance allows cameras to be installed at stoplights. The cameras, currently installed at three Port Lavaca intersections, photograph vehicles at the stoplight.

Civil penalties may be imposed on drivers who run red lights or do not make a proper stop before a right turn.

He said a mechanical failure in his vehicle, which he had just purchased, caused him to run the red light.

His rear anti-lock braking system failed as he was driving on slippery pavement. His front wheels locked, and he slid to the right-hand lane. By the time he would have stopped back in the left lane, he would have been past the white line. So he ran the light, he said.

He planned to appeal the citation. His precinct judge told him that he would have to contact Redflex, the company who had installed the cameras.

Baugh filed paperwork with the company to appeal the ticket.

He received a postcard from them which said he was scheduled for a hearing at the public library - in Harlingen, a four-hour drive from Port Lavaca.

Instead of making the trek to the Rio Grande Valley, he created a Facebook page called PL Citizens Against Red Light Cameras. Then, he began a petition drive in February with the help of Port Lavaca native and Houston resident Dwayne Buehring, who has been outspoken about red light cameras in Houston.

Business owners have also taken up with the concerned citizens.

Michael Garner owns Merle's BBQ at the intersection of Half League Road and State Highway 35, an intersection monitored by cameras.

Accidents happen in front of his restaurant every day, he said. Drivers stop abruptly to avoid traffic fines and end up rear-ending each other, Garner added.

And it's not helping his business, either. He said drivers are bypassing the red light camera-equipped intersections. In turn, Garner is losing customers, he said.

"It's hurt all of us in one way or another," he said. "We're going to end up losing businesses because of it."

The red light cameras have aided law enforcement and increased safety, Police Chief John Stewart said.

He has a team studying the amount of accidents at camera-equipped intersections this year as opposed to last.

"I think we can show the accidents have decreased except in the places that don't have cameras," Stewart said. "That, in itself, tells me one thing: that the red light cameras work."

So far 300 have signed the petition. Baugh needs 340 signatures, 5 percent of all registered voters in the city, to force a charter election.

If the petition gathers enough signatures it could be put up for a referendum vote in November or May 2011.

Even if citizens voted against red light cameras, Buehring and Baugh's work would not be over, they said. They would begin lobbying the council to establish in the city charter a ban on red light cameras.

"I just know it's wrong to take that much money from our community," said Buehring, whose family owns a business in the city. "It's absolutely wrong and an unfair tax on the people."

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