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Nassau begins speed camera rollout in school zones

Cars drive past the speed camera set up

Cars drive past the speed camera set up in front of Dutch Broadway School on Dutch Broadway on Tuesday, September 2, 2014 in Elmont. Credit: Howard Schnapp

New speed cameras began operating Tuesday outside six schools in Nassau County, and cameras will go online at 14 other schools that are set to open Wednesday, county officials said.

Fixed speed cameras went live Tuesday at schools in Franklin Square, Merrick, North Merrick, Roosevelt and Syosset. Additionally, fixed cameras will begin operating Wednesday at schools in East Meadow, Elmont, Hicksville, Long Beach, Lynbrook, Massapequa, Plainedge, Plainview, Seaford and Westbury.

A mobile camera was operating Tuesday outside Oceanside High School. Other mobile cameras will go online Wednesday in Farmingdale, Hempstead, Malverne and Valley Stream.

Five more mobile cameras will begin operating next week. Nassau will install cameras at a total of 56 sites, with the rollout expected to be completed by October, said Brian Nevin, a spokesman for Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano.

Fines for individual violations are $80, and the county is expected to receive $25 million annually in new revenue, Nevin said. Generally, the cameras will operate from 7 a.m. until 6 p.m.

The cameras were approved earlier this year to help plug the county's budget deficit and to boost safety around schools. But the program has sparked numerous complaints from motorists who say they were not told that the cameras were operating during a pilot program this summer.

Data on the number of tickets issued Tuesday was not available because American Traffic Solutions, the Arizona-based vendor that runs the program, needs to "affirm the violations," Nevin said.

Legis. Dave Denenberg (D-Merrick) said only one of the three schools in his district with cameras operating this week has flashing yellow lights warning motorists to slow down, and that device was in place before the program began. Signs alerting motorists to the cameras were partly obscured by trees or failed to include the hours the cameras are operating, he said.

"If this was all about public safety and not revenue, why not wait until consistent signage is in place?" said Denenberg, a State Senate candidate who has sponsored legislation to increase the size of warning signs and equip them with flashing lights when cameras are operating. He and other lawmakers voted unanimously for the speed camera bill.

Nevin said warning signs have been posted at all camera sites and the county plans to install the flashing lights at all locations, but the power sources and equipment must be obtained.

Last month, Mangano dismissed 39,915 tickets carrying $2.4 million in fines. The tickets were generated during the test program in July and August at six school locations after the cameras malfunctioned or became operational prematurely, resulting in 9,807 citations issued in error.

Officials are still "working out the logistics" of issuing refunds to motorists who paid those fines, Nevin said.

Motorists -- some of whom received as many as 11 tickets each -- bombarded county officials with complaints. Some said they did not know school activities were underway, and that they did not encounter warning signs about the program until after they had passed the cameras.

In Suffolk County, speed cameras won't be ready until the 2015 school year. While Nassau uses the vendor for its existing red light camera program, American Traffic Solutions, Suffolk has issued a "request for expressions of interest" to determine what technology is available and to solicit input from companies, said Thomas Melito, a Suffolk deputy county executive. Responses are due Friday.

Suffolk estimates the school speed cameras could bring in $6.8 million a year.

With David M. Schwartz

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