Town leaders balk at red-light camera plan

Motorists are warned by this sign about red-light Motorists are warned by this sign about red-light cameras in Centereach. Photo Credit: Newsday / Thomas A. Ferrara, 2011

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Town leaders are resisting Suffolk County's plan to double the number of red-light cameras at dangerous intersections.

The county Department of Public Works in recent weeks asked the boards of Suffolk's five western townships for permission to study 100 intersections for possible installation of the cameras, which photograph vehicles as they run red lights.

Brookhaven, Huntington, Islip and Smithtown officials balked at the request, worried they would be on the hook for maintaining the cameras and stunned to learn the towns would not share revenue from fines.

"Right now, the county traffic signals, once installed, are maintained by the town as a town expense," Brookhaven Supervisor Edward P. Romaine said. "If they wish to address red-light cameras, we're all for safety and we would be happy to sit and look at the issue. But I think there should some degree of sharing the revenues."

Suffolk has 50 cameras in use, mostly on state and county roads. County officials say an additional 50 cameras would improve traffic safety and add up to $6 million annually to county coffers. Nassau netted $20 million in 2011 from 50 cameras and also hopes to net $6 million annually from 50 more cameras.

Suffolk Public Works Commissioner Gil Anderson said the county would maintain the cameras, and the revenue they generate will cover the cost of running the system. "There is no intent to revenue share [with the towns]," Anderson said. "This is a public safety project. There are costs to running it."

Anderson could not provide annual operating costs.

He said the county plans to study 100 intersections with high rates of right-angle -- or T-bone -- crashes, in which a vehicle running a red light collides with a car passing through a green or yellow light. The 50 intersections deemed most dangerous will have cameras installed, with permission of town officials, he said.

The county's criteria for selecting intersections face scrutiny from lawmakers, said Legis. John M. Kennedy Jr. (R-Nesconset). Several intersections proposed for his district are on lightly used side streets, he said.

"While I believe that there's some value to red-light camera placement for heavily traversed main road intersections, I think that we have to revisit the selection process," Kennedy said.

The five East End towns aren't part of the plan to add more cameras, because those towns have courts to collect red-light violation fines. In Suffolk's five western towns, red-light violations are handled by county district courts.

Of the other Suffolk towns, only Babylon approved the county study without reservations.

"The town does not have a problem with the revenue going to the county," said town spokesman Kevin Bonner. "The town anticipates receiving improved traffic safety as a benefit."

With Denise M. Bonilla, Sophia Chang, Mitchell

Freedman, Nicole Fuller

and Deborah S. Morris

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