AUSTIN (KXAN) — Some Texas lawmakers will once again mull the idea of getting rid of cameras at traffic lights Wednesday.
A KXAN investigation found red light cameras across Texas could be operating illegally. During the investigation, KXAN uncovered evidence the city did not have a legally-required signed and sealed engineering study on file.
When KXAN presented Russell Bowman, an attorney in Irving, with the City of Austin’s engineering study for review. The attorney said the city did not conduct a legally-required engineering study to meet the state’s standards.
“We found—more than once, on multiple, multiple occasions…there’s a lot of cities that just didn’t comply with this traffic engineering study requirement—at all,” Bowman told KXAN in 2017. The attorney got a red light ticket in Richardson, Texas in November of 2012. Bowman said he wasn’t driving the car at the time, but someone in his family was. Bowman still got the ticket and would have to prove it wasn’t him running the red light.
City of Austin officials say they stand by their study and add it does meet the state’s requirements.
In Austin, there are nine red light camera intersections, three of which are within a mile along Interstate 35 Service Road.
The most tickets are issued at the intersection of I-35 and 11th Street and city court records show more than 30,000 tickets have come from that intersection’s cameras. In the last decade, red light cameras in Austin have generated nearly 100,000 $75 tickets to violators.
"I think the only purpose they serve is trying to increase revenue and trying to trap people," Richard Nolan said. He commutes daily on I-35 and says he has never received a ticket before and would like to keep it that way.
"No red light cameras," he said.
Another driver, Thom Thibodeau, who got a ticket in 2017, believes it has helped him become a better driver and believes it will do the same for others.
"Speeders are deterred from speeding, it’s a natural deterrent. It’s not invasive, so yeah, I like them. I say keep them. I don’t see a problem with it," he said.
Yet, there are some who are indifferent.
"That doesn’t bother me, I mean I think they’re OK, but to get rid of them, that’s alright," John Houston an Austin commuter said.
A city audit from August 2018 found the red light cameras are working and cut down on the number of crashes.
The first year the cameras went up the city gave out nearly 3,500 tickets, a difference from last year when more than 13,000 tickets were issued.
Despite the Austin red light cameras generating more than $7 million in fines about 90 percent of that money goes back to the camera companies.The state then collects half of what’s left leaving the City of Austin with about $56,000 thousand dollars a year in red light revenue. The city spends that money on transportation projects.
A KXAN investigation became the center of attention last fall when lawyers stood before the state Supreme Court fighting to win refunds of red light camera fines for millions of Texas drivers. This came after the City of Willis issued tickets illegally since the city had failed to perform engineering studies required under Texas law. No word yet when the court will make its ruling.
Cities are required to perform those studies before installing a red light camera. During our investigation, out of 50 cities that responded to open record requests, only three appeared to have performed the required engineering studies.
According to figures from the Texas Comproller’s Office, cities have netted around $537 million from red light camera tickets since 2008.