Red-light cameras are coming back to Jersey Village.
The Jersey Village City Council unanimously voted at a Nov. 19 meeting to proceed with the reinstallation of red-light cameras at 11 locations along Hwy. 290. The cameras were installed between 2008 and 2011, but were removed in 2013 at the direction of the Texas Department of Transportation to facilitate work on a Hwy. 290 widening project.
The council’s vote took place after the city hired the engineering firm REDS LLC in August to evaluate the usefulness and placement of the cameras, Jersey Village Police Chief Eric Foerster said.
“We re-engineered all of the intersections,” Foerster said at the November meeting. “The sight lines have changed; the road surface has changed. At each and every intersection, [the engineers]came back and said it would be a benefit to have red-light cameras.”
The move is taking place at a time when the constitutionality of red-light cameras is being questioned by statewide officials and challenged in the Texas Supreme Court. In September, Gov. Greg Abbott called on state lawmakers to pass legislation in the 2019 Legislative Session—which kicks off in January—that would ban cities from operating red-light cameras.
“They are expensive, studies indicate that they may increase accidents where deployed, and they pose constitutional issues,” Abbott wrote.
Jersey Village overview
A red-light camera is a device that takes an image of a vehicle as it enters an intersection during red lights. Those images are then reviewed by law enforcement officers, who determine if a driver illegally ran the red light and issue fines through the mail as necessary.
The 11 cameras in Jersey Village will be reinstalled across five Hwy. 290 intersections—Jones Road, West Road, Senate Avenue, FM 529 and Beltway 8—facing various directions. In addition to replacing the cameras, the engineering study also recommended several additional methods for reducing accidents, including extending the length of yellow lights and trimming trees to make traffic signals more visible, Foerster said.
“It all works together,” he said.
Foerster said data collected by TxDOT and the Jersey Village Police Department found a steady decrease in accidents from 2010 to 2013 at the intersections where the red-light cameras were installed. When the cameras were removed in 2013, the trend started to turn around, he said.
Total red-light related crashes at the relevant intersections reached a low point in 2012, when 26 crashes were recorded. That number jumped to a high point of 104 crashes in 2015. However, red-light related crashes fell back down to 31 in 2017, even though the cameras were still not being used.
Jersey Village City Manager Austin Bleess said the city should not have to spend any money on the camera installation. The cameras are expected to be reinstalled and operational within the next six to 10 months, he said.
State Sen. Bob Hall, R-Edgewood, filed Senate Bill 77 on Nov. 12, which would ban red-light cameras throughout the state. Attempts were also made to ban red-light cameras during 2015 and 2017 sessions, but in both years bills that passed out of the Senate failed to pass through the House of Representatives.
Foerster testified at a previous state committee hearing where a red-light camera ban bill was being discussed along with the city’s former manager Mike Castro. Bleess said he was not sure if any city officials would testify next year.
This year, the Texas Supreme Court is also hearing a case that could decide the fate of red-light cameras in the state. In oral arguments presented Nov. 1, attorney Russell Bowman made several arguments against the existing red-light camera law—adopted in 2007—including that it violates the constitution’s guarantee of due process. A decision from the Supreme Court is expected to be made in June.
Jersey Village resident John Baucum spoke against the reinstallation of the red-light cameras at the November meeting, citing the ongoing efforts to have them banned statewide.
“I would advise you not to put the cameras up if the governor is about to pass a law that will pull them right back down,” he said.
Rod Erskine, a former Jersey Village mayor, spoke in favor of the cameras at the meeting. Erskine led an effort against a 2016 ballot proposition in Jersey Village that would have banned use of the cameras within the city. Sixty-five percent of voters rejected the ban, allowing the city the option to reinstall the cameras at a later date if council members wanted to do so.
“While data from other cities may show different facts, the data from our police department actually shows the red-light cameras did reduce the number of traffic incidents as far as car crashes as well as injuries resulting from those crashes,” Erskine said at the meeting. “We are surrounded by three very busy streets with a lot of traffic that doesn’t live in Jersey Village. You can sit out there and see people run those red lights yourself.”
Bleess cited the 2016 election results and the recommendation from the city’s police department as reasons for moving forward with the reinstallation.
“This is certainly a positive and appreciated thing in Jersey Village,” Bleess said.
The following graph shows red-light related and non-red-light related crashes at the five intersections in Jersey Village for 2010 through 2017. All cameras were removed in 2013.