Monroe deactivates its traffic-enforcement cameras

MONROE — The cameras died quietly.

Monroe pulled the plug on its traffic-enforcement cameras on Dec. 31, when the contract expired with Arizona-based Redflex Traffic Systems.

City officials for months declined to say when the program would end, citing concerns about litigation.

They stopped the program Dec. 31, and they removed the signs, City Administrator Gene Brazel said. The cameras themselves have not been removed yet but they’re no longer active.

Monroe’s traffic-enforcement cameras went live in 2011, years after the original contract was signed. The devices were used to snare speeders in two school zones and red-light runners at one city intersection, U.S. 2 and Kelsey Street.

The cameras immediately sparked controversy. They brought Mukilteo-based activist Tim Eyman to town, and led to a series of advisory ballot measures and a two-year legal battle that ended when the state Court of Appeals ruled in the city’s favor. Monroe voters repeatedly lined up against the cameras in advisory elections.

The cameras also brought in less revenue than anticipated. Early on, Monroe police had to cancel hundreds of tickets because of printing errors on documents mailed by Redflex.

From January through November 2013, Monroe spent $384,138 on its camera program, including paying for the contract and for staff hours and court costs to process citations. During the same time, the cameras brought in $544,079 from tickets. That’s a difference of just under $160,000 — not counting the legal bills.

In that same timeframe, the city issued 2,125 red-light camera tickets and 4,108 school-zone tickets, according to police department data.

December citations still are being tallied.

The end of Monroe’s program leaves Lynnwood the only city in Snohomish County with traffic-enforcement cameras. Lynnwood officials have revisited their program several times in recent years, even holding a public forum in 2012.

Lynnwood’s use of the cameras has proven a perennial political controversy during city election cycles. Past and present Lynnwood officials previously have said the city grew too reliant on its millions of dollars of camera revenue. At the same time, they’ve claimed the cameras have improved safety and that the devices mostly are triggered by folks from out of town who are bent on breaking the law.

Lynnwood’s current contract expires in November 2016.

Elsewhere in the county, Mukilteo, Everett and Sultan also explored the use of traffic-enforcement cameras but ultimately decided against the idea. Mukilteo in 2010 moved toward a camera contract but ditched the project after 71 percent of voters said they were opposed. That city’s flirtation with cameras also led to legal woes and controversy that took months, if not years, to dissipate.

Rikki King: 425-339-3449, rking@heraldnet.com.

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