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          Front Page




Traffic Cameras Staying, For Now

By Dan McKay
Journal Staff Writer
    Albuquerque's red light cameras will keep on snapping for now, as critics late Monday failed to muster enough votes to shut them down.
    The City Council narrowly voted this month to suspend the program through at least mid-January.
    Mayor Martin Chávez vetoed the bill. He said a task force he created to review the camera program should complete its work before any decisions are made on the cameras' future.
    Six votes were needed to override the mayor's veto, but only Brad Winter and Michael Cadigan supported the override.
    Regardless, councilors sounded willing to overhaul the program at some point.
    "I still think we need to do some tweaking," Councilor Sally Mayer said. "I hope this isn't the end of the discussion."
    The traffic cameras, stationed at roughly 20 intersections, photograph vehicles that run red lights or exceed the speed limit. Camera-equipped vans are also used.
    Citations, with fines starting at $100, are mailed to the owners of the vehicles.
    Winter sponsored the proposal to suspend the camera system. He argues that the program has been mismanaged, and he's not convinced it has reduced traffic accidents.
    Accident data have been mixed— initial research shows some types of accidents were reduced but rear-end crashes went up, city officials have said. Supporters also say driver habits have changed, using a drop in citations as evidence.
    Winter also said the camera system makes mistakes and the wrong person sometimes is cited.
    "We'll just see what the (task force) brings back," Winter said in an interview. "The issues aren't going to go away."
    Critics also say they are concerned about the constitutional "due process" rights of people cited in the program. They go before a city administrator rather than a regular judge.
    Chávez issued his veto on Friday.
    "During the holiday season, I ask that we reflect on what matters most, the safety of our loved ones," Chávez said in a one-page message to the council. "Virtually no one argues that this technology is not effective in catching violators. Do we really want red light runners and school zone speeders to be given a free pass this holiday season and into the school year?"
    The task force recommendations are due Jan. 15, he said. Waiting until then to "openly discuss the next steps" is the right decision, Chávez said.
    Winter's bill called for the camera program to remain suspended until the task force develops recommendations on how to proceed.
    Voting against the veto override were Mayer, Rey Garduño, Debbie O'Malley, Ken Sanchez, Isaac Benton, Trudy Jones and Don Harris.
    Winter indicated he knew the override attempt wouldn't succeed. "That failed miserably," he said after the vote, drawing laughs from the audience.
    In a separate vote, the council agreed unanimously to create a fund to hold the profit generated by the cameras.
    Councilors put about $5 million into the fund— the rough equivalent to how much profit the program has made in recent years. The money will be available for one-time public safety expenses and cannot be spent unless the council approves.
    During the meeting— before each vote— Cadigan disclosed that a lawyer in his firm had previously done work for Redflex, the company that helps run the cameras.