Drivers who might have been nervously eyeing the installation of red light cameras at three new intersections in Woodbridge shouldn't fear - yet.
According to town spokesman John Hagerty, the cameras still aren't operational.
"We're waiting for [the NJ Dept. of Transportation] to give us the OK," Hagerty said.
The three new places in Woodbridge where drivers who run red lights will have their license plates automatically photographed and be mailed $140 tickets have had the cameras and the warning signs posted for at least a month.
Two of the new red light camera intersections are southbound from the original one on Route 1. The first cameras were installed last year at the Avenel St. intersection. The new ones are at Route 1 and Green St. and Route 1 and Gill Lane, with a third new outpost at Route 184/West Pond Road, at the entrance to Walmart.
Woodbridge was one of the first municipalities in the state to partake in the red light five-year pilot program, said John Dee, spokesman for NJ Dept. of Transportation. All four approaches to the Avenel St. and Route 1 intersection are wired with the license plate-capturing camera system, which began in July, 2010.
The program proved so successful that the township applied for the red light cameras to be installed at three more intersections this year.
Dee said his department was waiting to hear from Woodbridge that the cameras were installed.
"Once we approve a location and authorize it, we do go out and make sure the installation was done properly," Dee said.
For the first thirty days after activation, drivers who zip through red lights are sent a warning. After that, they receive tickets that are the same price as if a policeman had pulled over a driver and handed them a ticket for going through a red light.
In the case of Woodbridge, the fine is $140. But there's some consolation for drivers who get a ticket via a snapshot of their license plate: they don't get any points. Drivers who get their tickets the old fashioned way, via policeman-issued tickets, earn two points on their licenses, according to Dee.
The point of the camera program "is about safety, to see if they reduce crashes at these intersections," said Dee.
Jennifer Kim of the Public Interest Research Group (PIRG) said it appears to be more about revenue. "There's a lot of money to be made from this," she said.
PIRG recently put out a special study on the red light camera program, warning that some companies that install and service the cameras have contracts that don't charge municipalities a flat fee.
That means that they may try to increase revenues by other means, such as changing the timing on yellow lights to yield more traffic tickets.
"There isn't a lot of transparency on this whole thing. It's a fast growing phenomenon," Kim said.
The cameras placed throughout Woodbridge are installed and maintained by American Traffic Solutions (ATS), one of the few companies that install "95 percent of the cameras," Kim said.
In New Jersey, all ATS contracts are a flat rate, said company spokeswoman Kate Coulson. "In New Jersey, ATS charges a flat fee of $4,750 per intersection approach for red-light safety camera technology. This includes the red-light safety cameras equipment, the installation, maintenance, violation processing services, call center support and ATS staff services," Coulson said.
The fee is a monthly rate. In the case of a four-way intersection where all roads have cameras trained on them, the cost would be $4,750 per road, or $19,000 a month, Coulson said.
The maintenance cost per four-way intersection is $228,000 a year, as in the Route 1 and Avenel St. cameras, but the cameras pay for their upkeep.
In the nine months between August 2010 and May 2011, red light tickets in Woodbridge brought in $1,240,526, with the township getting $632,837 of that, according to a report at newjerseynewsroom.com.
No tickets are sent out without the red light camera photographs first being examined by a police officer, Hagerty said. "We're careful to make sure that it's correct," he said.