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Could Legislators Put the Kibosh on Red Light Cameras?

Image courtesy Josh Liba

Anyone who's driven through a red-light at night and seen the flash of a camera knows the pain of anticipating the fine in the mail.  Since the City of Austin installed its red-light cameras in 2008, more than 28,000 citations have been issued.

In the 2009 and 2010 fiscal years, the city says it raked in almost $1.6 million dollars in fines from red light cameras. After expenses, the profit from those two years was $363,869. The city splits that 50/50 with the state.

Even though these photographic traffic enforcement systems are generating a decent amount of cash for municipalities, some voters and even some lawmakers apparently don't like the "Big Brother" vibe they get from policing by camera.

The Dallas Morning News reported this week that the same brand of anti-government Tea Party sentiment that swept ballot boxes on November 2 seems to be pushing red-light cameras out of intersections.

Legislators in Austin, who almost passed a statewide camera ban in 2009, have pledged to take up the issue again next year. "This, to me, destroys any argument that the cameras are, somehow, popular," said Byron Schirmbeck, who successfully pushed for a ballot initiative in Baytown, Texas, opposing the cameras. Acting on that vote, Baytown this week passed an ordinance making it difficult for the city to issue camera violations. Houston turned off its 70 cameras Monday, spurring a lawsuit between the city and Arizona-based camera vendor American Traffic Solutions.

Our reporting partners the Texas Tribune created this bubble chart to visualize red-light camera revenues that went to cities and counties since 2007.  As you can see, the profit generated by the camera is no small chunk of change. The Trib also put up this map showing the location of every red-light camera in the state.

Nathan Bernier is the transportation reporter at KUT. He covers the big projects that are reshaping how we get around Austin, like the I-35 overhaul, the airport's rapid growth and the multibillion-dollar transit expansion Project Connect. He also focuses on the daily changes that affect how we walk, bike and drive around the city. Got a tip? Email him at Follow him on X @KUTnathan.