A community just north of Philadelphia could become the first suburb in the state to install red-light cameras under a new law allowing the devices to be used outside Pennsylvania's largest city.
Township commissioners in Abington voted 14-1 last week to install the devices at three busy intersections, according to the Bucks County Courier Times. The plan still requires a final green light from the state Department of Transportation.
For the past eight years, Philadelphia has been the only place in Pennsylvania where surveillance cameras can snap pictures of cars that fail to stop at red lights. Scofflaws are fined $100.
But a state law approved last year permits Pittsburgh, Abington and 11 other municipalities to consider installing the devices. Several of those communities have discussed the idea, but Abington is the furthest along in the process, PennDOT spokeswoman Erin Waters-Trasatt said.
Critics say the cameras invade motorists' privacy without having a clear-cut effect on safety. And the state Transportation Advisory Committee has warned that red-light cameras might not prove financially feasible outside of urban settings.
"If you're a smaller municipality with low-volume intersections ... it could be more cost-effective to pay for some police overtime or some low-cost safety improvements,'' AAA Mid-Atlantic spokeswoman Jenny Robinson said.
Of the $10 million in fines Philadelphia collected in 2011-12, about $7 million went to pay expenses, the Philadelphia Parking Authority reported. The agency is also working to collect more than $10 million in unpaid violations.
The fines are first used to cover installation and maintenance costs of the cameras, while surplus money goes into a statewide fund. The fund has distributed $14.6 million in grants for local traffic safety projects since 2010, and another $8.8 million is up for grabs in 2013, according to PennDOT.
Abington Commissioner Steven Kline, the only board member to oppose the cameras, called them "extremely controversial.'' He said he received about 150 letters from residents upset about their planned use.
"I think there's enough stuff on both sides to make you wonder, and to stay away from them,'' Kline said.