The intersection of MD 235 and MD 237 as seen from a state-owned traffic camera.
LEONARDTOWN, Md.—Sheriff Timothy K. Cameron said his agency is still pursuing the installation of several red light enforcement cameras along Route 235 despite a recent signal from the State Highway Administration (SHA) that they may not be appropriate for the county's major thoroughfare.
"We're going to continue in the process," Cameron told The County Times. "The process will lead us where it will."
The SHA sent a letter to Commissioner John O'Connor dated Feb. 22, stating that they had examined the traffic safety situation on Route 235 and found that most of the vehicle crashes were rear-end collisions.
"Therefore, red light cameras are not recommended," wrote Cedric Ward, the director of the SHA's Office of Traffic Safety.
Cameron was not satisfied with the letter from the SHA because he believed it "begged more questions than it answered."
Cameron said the SHA seems not to have taken into account the severity of the accident or of personal injuries sustained in them, nor did they take into account how many vehicles actually complied with red light signals at intersections.
Cameron said he would not give up on the red light issue.
"I would say it would require further study," Cameron said. "I don't think SHA has done its due diligence because they haven't answered all these questions."
When SHA teams analyzed Route 235 they did make some changes, however, according to the Ward missive.
"They adjusted the clearance intervals at 17 traffic signals and adjusted the pedestrian timing at four traffic signals," the letter states. "Additionally our traffic engineering staff conducted a review of the corridor and found that all of the traffic control devices were properly in place."
The sheriff's agency has selected five intersections in the county that they want to see red light cameras installed, with four of them on Route 235 and only needs approval from the state highway authorities to begin the process of installation.
Cameron said that ultimately it was up to the state highway authorities, and to any vendor that the agency might engage, to allow the red light cameras to be installed.
Once the process was completed, Cameron said, the agency would abide by the decision, but the sheriff's office would continue to do its research to make red light cameras a reality.
"This is still a traffic safety issue," Cameron said. "We're going to do our due diligence."
David Buck, SHA spokesman, said there was still room for Cameron and state officials to come to terms but red light cameras would not likely be among them.
"Things can and do change," Buck said. "But we can't support a red light camera there because the crashes that increase because of red light cameras are rear end crashes.
"Based on the data right now the answer is 'no.' We don't want to make a situation worse."
County commissioners have no vote on whether red light cameras will come to St. Mary's County since it is a decision that has to be left up to the sheriff's office and SHA but Commissioner Todd Morgan has said he would not give up on the issue.
Morgan's wife was critically injured several years ago when his wife's vehicle was struck by another motorist who had run a red light. She later died as a result of her injuries.
"I'm always going to fight for public safety," Morgan said. "I'm not changing my mind.
"They can time these lights until they're blue in the face but it's not going to change driver behavior. They're still running red lights and blocking intersections."
O'Connor, who works in the automated traffic enforcement industry, said that distracted driving and aggressive driving were the main problems on Route 235 and that red light cameras would likewise not change those behaviors.
But greater enforcement by police patrols would, he said, and there were grants both local and state agencies could explore to expand their efforts.
He agreed with the SHA assessment that red light cameras would likely only compound the problem, while their research showed there were few problems with right-angle turns which would necessitate red light cameras.
"If anything, retiming the lights will help the problems by increasing the times for yellow lights and red lights, which will allow extra time for the intersections to settle," O'Connor said.
For more local news stories, visit the St. Mary's County Times online at http://ct.somd.com/