The new red-light camera at the Benson Drive and South Puget Drive intersection in Renton had the highest citations in the region in 2018. HALEY AUSBUN, Renton Reporter

The new red-light camera at the Benson Drive and South Puget Drive intersection in Renton had the highest citations in the region in 2018. HALEY AUSBUN, Renton Reporter

City of Renton revenue up with new red-light camera at busy intersection

Thousands of citations at South Puget Drive and Benson Drive

A red-light camera in Des Moines previously held the regional record for citations, with 24,443 in 2017, according to the Seattle Times.

A new Renton red-light camera beat the record number last year, in half the time.

The camera at the intersection of South Puget Drive and Benson Drive racked up 28,822 citations last year, and the cameras only penalized drivers for six months. The first part of the year it was still in a grace period, so no citations were issued.

This accounted for 44.5 percent of Renton’s red-light camera citations in 2018.

In that same time, the amount of collisions at the intersection dropped, from 60 in 2017, to eight in 2018.

Renton Police Department Cmdr. Dan Figaro took over traffic control in January. He said the new intersection camera was added after reviewing the 2017 collision data, which was more than the average number of collisions.

A lot of the collisions were related to cars making illegal U-turns and hitting a car quickly turning right. Other crashes were people blatantly running the red light. Drivers can pick up a lot of speed heading northbound on Benson Drive, Figaro said.

The only other time Renton has seen citations at this level was with a school zone speed camera in front of Renton High School. That camera was later removed after resident-driven requests, and because, Figaro said, the department wanted to send the right message: that the cameras are about safety, not about money.

But the money is there. The new red-light camera has increased revenue for the city. The Renton Municipal Court can’t break down the dollar amount by intersection, but it received $3.5 million in fines from the seven red-light cameras and six school-zone speed cameras in 2018.

In 2017, the court saw $2.1 million. This means new cameras may have brought in an additional $1.4 million to the city.

If each citation was paid for from the South Puget Drive and Benson Drive intersection, it would have resulted in $3.75 million in additional revenue in 2018. Vehicles are fined $124 for running a red-light camera.

Bonnie Woodrow, court clerk at Renton Municipal Court, said that photo enforcement citations have the lowest collection rate of any fines that go through the system, as they’re tied to the vehicle instead of the person and there’s no big incentive for drivers to pay.

Almost half of citations issues receive a “declaration of non-responsibility,” Woodrow said, where registered owners state under oath they were not driving the vehicle. Those citations are then dismissed.

The tickets can go to collection, but they are not applied to an individual’s driving record or to the state Department of Licensing.

Still, the court clerks enter each citation into the system. With the new intersection cameras the court filed 48,271 total citations in 2018, which includes school zone cameras. In comparison, they filed 25,244 citations in 2017.

“That intersection had a huge impact on the court workload,” Woodrow said. “It doubled our program. We were very surprised.”

The clerk employees worked a lot of overtime, weekends and nights. The city then added two new full-time staff in the 2019-20 biennial budget, after the court’s request.

“I’m really glad that’s over,” Woodrow said, adding that they can usually absorb new locations with no increase in staffing.

At the end of 2018, the number of photo enforcement citations steadied out, Woodrow said. But still, the workload has permanently increased.

An average month before the new intersection cameras was about 1,300 photo enforcement citations filed through the court system. After the new locations, they had 7,800 photo enforcement citations filed in July 2018. Now it’s steadied to about 3,500 filed a month, Woodrow said.

The city also added two other cameras in 2018, as previously reported by the Renton Reporter. The Grady Way and Talbot Road intersection had 3,815 citations and the Park Avenue North and Logan Avenue intersection has 6,047 citations.

The city extended the grace period in 2018 due to the high volume of warning violations they were seeing. A press release stated motorists were running red lights at an “abnormally high rate” at the new intersections.

The citations have slowed down since the first six months. There’s been 12,631 at that intersection to date in 2019.

In comparison to other cities in the region, all of Renton’s red-light cameras issued higher on average citations, outside of the South Puget intersection it ranged from 2,895 to 6,047. Of 15 other cities that use red-light cameras, about 10 of them didn’t exceed 6,000 citations at their most highest-violation intersection, including the city of Seattle.

Des Moines, Fife, Puyallup, Lynnwood, Federal Way and Bellevue all had at least one intersection that exceeded 6,000 citations. The second highest was the Des Moines, with 15,699 at the Kent-Des Moines Road and Pacific Highway South intersection.

City traffic engineers and the police department work together on deciding intersections for traffic cameras, Figaro said.

More information on photo enforcement in Renton is available at rentonwa.gov/photoenforcement.

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