RALEIGH — The city's red-light cameras appear likely to survive after all.
City Councilman Eugene Weeks said Tuesday he would drop his opposition to the program - a reversal that provides the additional vote needed to extend a contract with the company that manages the cameras.
The council had voted 4-3 last week to renew the 8-year-old program - one vote short of the five needed for approval. The contract expires Friday, and the cameras will continue working through midnight that day unless the council reconsiders, said Mike Kennon, the city's transportation operations manager.
The cameras photograph vehicles that enter an intersection after the light has turned red, and the pictures and a $50 fine are sent to the vehicle's owner, based on the license plate. It's a civil infraction, like a parking ticket, with no effect on driving records or insurance rates.
The city began installing the cameras at historically dangerous intersections in summer 2003 and now has them at 15 intersections citywide.
City traffic engineers say the cameras have helped reduce serious T-bone crashes by discouraging people from running red lights. Critics say the cameras are inherently unfair because vehicle owners automatically receive a ticket in the mail without the opportunity to challenge them on the spot.
In the early years of the program, drivers contested as many as 20 percent of camera citations; only about 2 percent of those appeals were successful, Kennon said. The addition of the video has drastically cut those numbers so that in 2011, only 2 percent of citations have been appealed, and of those only 16 percent were overturned, he said.
Weeks said he would request another vote at Tuesday's City Council meeting. The District C representative voted "no" last week because he was upset over the removal of a red-light camera at a busy intersection in southeast Raleigh.
But Weeks changed his stance after city officials agreed to evaluate the intersection, Rock Quarry and Proctor roads.
"I told them, 'As long as you're studying it, that's the bottom line,' " said Weeks, who faces four challengers in the election Oct. 11. "Keep it active; that's the important thing."
Raleigh is one of four communities that use red-light cameras in North Carolina, along with Cary, Knightdale and Wilmington.
The program was not meant to be a money maker for the city. The citation fees not needed to cover the cost of the program are turned over to the Wake County public schools - more than $521,000 since the cameras were put up.
The benefits go beyond roadway safety, Kennon said.
"It has definitely saved lives," he said. "It's been a great program because it's not paid for by the general taxpayers, but by the violators."