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Fairfax County may bring back red-light cameras

Fairfax County may bring back red light cameras after scrapping a similar program eight years ago. (Photo: Thinkstock)

Fairfax County is considering bringing red-light cameras back to the county just eight years after officials scrapped a similar program because it was losing money.

The county lost more than $1.3 million during its first experiment with the cameras because of high operating costs and too few tickets to cover them, officials said. Lawmakers said they remain hopeful that a second attempt would be more financially rewarding.

As a result, the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday agreed to study ways it could resurrect the program to reduce accidents and the number of public safety workers it would have to hire as the county's population grows.

"This is potentially a way we can ensure safety without adding police officers," said Supervisor Michael Frey, R-Sully.

The Virginia General Assembly in 1999 passed legislation to allow local jurisdictions to create their own red-light programs, which Fairfax County did between 2002 and 2005, until the state nixed the law.

When lawmakers restored local authority to install the cameras, Fairfax opted out and for the past eight years have relied on patrol officers to monitor busy intersections.

"The naysayers will tell you that jurisdictions only do this to raise money, but ours did not," Frey said. "There were fewer people running lights. Revenues are not the point. Safety is."

If the county chooses to restart the camera program, it will join a host of other communities in the region now operating their own red-light cameras.

In Northern Virginia, Alexandria and Arlington County use the cameras, as does Fairfax City, which is looking to more than double the number of red-light cameras it has.

Montgomery and Prince George's counties in Maryland have red-light cameras and speed cameras, too. Cameras in Rockville nabbed nearly 18,000 drivers last year and raised more than $1.3 million in fines.

Despite the revenue the cameras generate, at least one Fairfax board member said he was worried about bringing the cameras back to county intersections.

"People understand the circumstances at the intersections, the cameras can't," said Supervisor Jeff McKay, D-Lee. "I'm not in love with them."