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Modesto gets more red-light cameras

The city of Modesto is adding cameras at four more intersections in hopes of deterring drivers from running red lights and catching those who do.

The city in 2004 approved installing cameras at key intersections. Officials hoped the revenue from writing $361 tickets would add up and pay for the system.

Despite falling short by about $5,000 of its revenue goal, the Modesto Police Department's red-light camera system will start expanding within the next two months, police Lt. Bill Ryan said.

Ryan, who oversees the camera system for the department, said numbers from 2006 still are being finalized.

"It looks like we came up a little short," Ryan said. "We're hoping that it's a little closer when we finalize the numbers."

For the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30, the red-light photo enforcement program received about $283,500 in traffic fine revenue. However, the city paid Redflex, the Arizona-based company that operates the system, $288,720 for operating costs during that time.

Nevertheless, Ryan said the camera system still hasn't cost taxpayers anything.

In the city's contract with the camera company, Redflex agrees to pay all installation and equipment costs. The company is contracted to pay the city back if operating expenses exceed traffic fine revenue.

"We don't look to measure success in the amount of revenue gained," Ryan said. "If we break even and make the roads safer, then that's a success."

The intersections of McHenry and Standiford-Sylvan avenues and McHenry and Briggsmore avenues each will get two cameras. Coffee Road at Sylvan and Coffee at Briggsmore each will get one camera.

All the cameras are scheduled to be in place by the end of this year. The camera at Coffee and Sylvan should be ready to go within two months.

At each location, police will test the equipment for the first 30 days without issuing citations.

The first cameras were installed about 18 months ago at Briggsmore and Prescott Road, Briggsmore and Oakdale Road, Standiford and Sisk Road, and Standiford and Tully Road.

The data gathered at those intersections showed some positive results: The percentage of collisions ending in injuries declined, police said. There was a slight increase in the total number of accidents at the four intersections from 2005 to 2006, but the total number dropped from 2004 to 2006.

Ryan attributed the slight jump in collisions during the one year to the Modesto area's population, commercial and residential growth.

"Look at the growth out east of Modesto near Oakdale," Ryan said. "The volume of vehicles coming into the city from Oakdale and Riverbank has increased."

Recent criticism of the red-light camera system used in Sacramento has Modesto police on the defensive about its system. Department officials want to make it clear to Modesto residents that the Redflex-operated system is not the same as the one used in Sacramento.

The Redflex cameras use digital photographs and are maintained and adjusted remotely. Sacramento's cameras use film rolls that must be taken from the cameras every day using a black hood, according to a statement posted on the department's Web site.

Ryan said the quality control system has been fine-tuned since the cameras were installed in Modesto.

"When we first put the cam-eras up, we started looking at the images and dismissing a lot of them," Ryan said. "We want to be absolutely sure we're doing the right thing."

Some of the early technical difficulties involved fuzzy photos or outdated Department of Motor Vehicle registrations.

"We had people coming to us and saying, 'That wasn't me, and I don't own that car anymore,'" Ryan said.

Now, Ryan said Redflex has two quality control employees who look at the photos at the company's headquarters before a Police Department employee reviews the photos.

Will O'Bryant, chairman of the Modesto City Council Safety and Communities Committee, said the red-light camera system has been successful so far, m

ainly for not spending too much money and by making roads safer by catching red-light runners.

"We have a lot of abusive drivers out there," O'Bryant said. "It just seems like everybody is in a hurry."

He said the council needs to continue to track it and make sure operational costs don't get out of control.

"It's just in the growing stage right now," O'Bryant said. "We'll give it a chance and see what happens."

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Bee staff writer Rosalio Ahumada can be reached at or 578-2394.