Politics & Government

Tacoma officials want Bay Street speed camera to stay

Tacoma officials are asking the Legislature to approve their continued use of a speed camera on the Bay Street curve, while promising they won’t be adding more cameras any time soon.

The camera, which catches speeders on East Bay Street near Interstate 5, has been in operation since late 2009. But the speed zone camera has received only temporary approval from the Legislature as part of a pilot project.

Tacoma leaders are now asking the Legislature to permanently approve their use of the camera, so that they don’t have to come back every two years and ask for permission to keep it.

Rep. Jake Fey, a Democrat and former member of the Tacoma City Council, said the intention of House Bill 1007 isn’t to expand traffic camera programs in his city or elsewhere.

The bill would limit the speed-camera authorization to jurisdictions with more than 195,000 citizens west of the Cascades — or, only Tacoma and Seattle. It would prohibit either jurisdiction from installing additional speed cameras.

The Bay Street camera is Tacoma’s only speed zone camera outside of those in three designated school zones.

Tacoma officials said the sharp curve connecting Interstate 5 and River Road near the Emerald Queen Casino is a particularly dangerous stretch, and one that is difficult for police vehicles to patrol.

Since the camera’s installation in November 2009, total accidents on the curve have declined, as has the number of people caught speeding there, according to city statistics.

About 37,000 people got ticketed by the camera in 2010, its first full year in operation.

Now, “that’s reduced to about 12,000 annually,” said Capt. Shawn Stringer of the Tacoma Police Department.

Total accidents are also down from a peak of 39 accidents annually between 2006 to 2008, to eight accidents in 2013 and 14 last year, according to city data.

“It’s definitely having a traffic-calming effect on the speeds that people are going,” Stringer said.

While the Bay Street camera brings in revenue for the city, Tacoma officials told lawmakers that’s not why they’re trying to get the program permanently extended.

“If this bill does not pass, we will lose a valuable safety tool,” Councilman Marty Campbell told the House Transportation Committee on Wednesday.

The camera brought the city an average of $119,297 monthly in net revenue between January 2010 and June 2011. During the next year, monthly revenue was less than half that, according to city data — about $47,619 per month.

Each ticket for a speeding violation caught by the camera costs $124 and doesn’t go on a person’s driving record.