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Police chief, city manager share doubt about camera effectiveness during work session

SPOKESMAN FILE PHOTO - Councilors and staff discussed the addition of between one and eight traffic cameras, which photograph vehicles that run red lights, but some were skeptical of how effective they would be.In a work session Thursday, Jan. 18, Wilsonville City councilors and staff animatedly discussed the pros, cons and logistics of adding red light cameras at congested intersections in Wilsonville.

But, ultimately, they decided to wait and readdress the idea later.

They agreed to postpone the decision because they felt they needed to first assess the effects of adding a traffic enforcement officer who will join the police department in March.

However, they hinted at a potential decision coming this summer.

Councilors and staff discussed the addition of between one and eight traffic cameras, which photograph vehicles that run red lights, positioned at the intersection of Southwest Wilsonville Road and Southwest Boones-Ferry Road and Southwest Wilsonville Road and Town Center Loop West.

City Manager Bryan Cosgrove was skeptical that the addition of red light cameras would solve the problem of clogged intersections because it wouldn't address people who clog up the intersection who aren't running a red light. He also raised concerns about a potential public backlash to red light camera adoption.

"If somebody goes through and the light's green and they're stuck in the intersection, they're not going to get ticketed. That's not what this is going to do," he said. "The other thing is that once you go down this road, you have to be aware that there is going to be some possible public backlash for people getting tickets and the whole big brother aspect of it."

However, councilors said the primary goal of the red light cameras would be to deter risky endeavors such as turning left on a yellow light.

"It seems to me that it would have a deterrent effect regardless," City Councilor Charlotte Lehan said.

Wilsonville Finance Director Susan Cole said one of the camera companies she spoke with quoted a single camera costing $90,000 to purchase and would include a $2,500 monthly fee while one company proposed a $48 fee per citation for five years of operation. Councilors suggested decreasing the potential agreement's shelf life but Cole acknowledged that doing so would likely increase the $48 per citation price.

The City collected data from neighboring jurisdictions that implemented red light cameras and found that the systems generate an average of 4-to-6 citations per day while officers spend about 1.5 hours per week reviewing citations.

Wilsonville Mayor Tim Knapp was perplexed that, based on a council survey, the staff report prioritized the addition of a red light camera that would track drivers going straight on Wilsonville Road rather than prioritizing drivers turning left — which he sees as causing congestion and safety risk.

"They're turning left and stalling in the intersection for whatever reason," Knapp said. "I think it's one of the highest risk elements from a safety standpoint."

Wilsonville Police Chief Rob Wurpes said that cities normally add red light cameras in unsafe areas that are prone to car accidents, but that serious car accidents are rare at the Wilsonville intersections. He was also skeptical that the red light cameras would solve congestion issues.

"Most of those are non-injury fender bender types and we can't even say whether they're related to the lights or not. In this case, I just want to be cautious and make sure we aren't using this as a solution to the congestion problem versus an actual safety issue," he said.

The Wilsonville Police Department added a part-time motorcyclist traffic officer last year and will add a full-time traffic enforcement officer in March. The part-time officer seems to have already boosted enforcement as there were 406 traffic stops in October of 2017 versus 257 in October of 2016.

"That's been one of the most effective tools we have because a car trying to monitor an intersection is difficult at best as opposed to a motorcycle," Wurpes said.

Cosgrove noted that the added traffic enforcement officer wouldn't be able to spend all of his time at these intersections whereas a red light camera would catch violators at all times.

Lehan agreed with the idea to postpone the decision but acknowledged that it would delay potential implementation of the red light(s).

"We will need 90 days to assess that (the traffic enforcement officer's impact), and if then we decide we also want cameras, it's going to be this time next year before they will ever be in place," Lehan said.

In other business, Wilsonville councilors approved a letter that they will send to state legislators raising concerns about legislation that will be introduced at the upcoming February session proposing to extend the Aurora Airport runway. Though they hoped to write the letter in collaboration with Clackamas County, Clackamas County decided not to be included. The resolution passed 4-0-1 with Council President Scott Star abstaining from the vote.

The Council also approved the acquisition of 2.1 acres of land to construct parts of Riddler Road east of Garden Acres Road and construct Garden Acres Road from Riddler Road to Day Road. They will acquire 14 different properties. All but one of the properties reside to the east of Garden Acres Road.

Finally, the City approved a second reading of an ordinance to annex 4.9 acres of right-of-way from Washington County in the Coffee Creek Industrial area.

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