If you live or shop in west Pasco you can’t avoid it.
The intersection at Road 68 and Burden Boulevard.
You may sit in long lines of traffic before finally getting a green light, only to have it turn yellow just as you approach the crosswalk.
Your patience lasts only so long.
Pasco police have found that too many are gunning it through the red light, causing fender benders and serious crashes with injuries.
A survey last September showed 76 red light runners at that intersection in just 12 hours. Of those, 59 would have been confirmed violations.
Now, multiply that by 365 a year, said Pasco Police Chief Bob Metzger.
“When I got the results I was surprised. Kind of shocked, quite frankly,” Metzger recently told Pasco council members. “This really, for me anyway, was an eye opener and kind of supported what intuitively I thought, but the numbers showed that the problem is bad.”
A patrol officer can’t be there every day during rush hour, especially since the congestion now extends well beyond normal commute times, he said.
So Metzger has found himself in favor of red light cameras, something he never expected recommending in his lengthy law enforcement career.
Tens of thousands of people every day drive through the 68 and Burden intersection. It serves as an arterial access to thousands of homes and feeds the city’s busiest retail and entertainment hub, which includes TRAC Center, Gesa Stadium, Fairchild Cinemas, Walmart Supercenter, Lowe’s and Yoke’s Fresh Market.
Efforts over the years to fix that intersection with extra turn lanes and timed stop lights haven’t helped the flow of traffic.
Even if the department had staffing to dedicate an officer to that intersection, Metzger said that the issue is where do they park to monitor the traffic zipping by and how do they navigate through the cars to stop a violator without creating more problems.
And that is just one intersection in a growing city that keeps adding miles of road traffic signals and schools with reduced speed zones.
Where they’re going and what they’ll do
Metzger has proposed placing red light cameras at the 68 and Burden intersection, along with Court Street and 20th Avenue. For starters.
He also suggests the city place mobile camera units in school zones to catch speeders who refuse to obey flashing lights with the posted 20 mph speed limit, putting students and employees at risk.
Washington state law allows cameras for speeders in school zones only and for red light violations.
“This is not about revenue as much as it is safety,” Metzger said. “In my view there are two choices: we either hire six officers or we can go with something in technology.”
Using electronic traffic enforcement requires changes in the Pasco Municipal Code and discussions with Pasco Municipal Court officials to set up a system to handle the likely influx in cases.
A majority of the Pasco council members said they are in favor of moving forward with the proposal. A few, like Metzger, said they never anticipated supporting cameras but now view them as a necessity to tackle the traffic congestion and speeders.
Mayor Matt Watkins was the only member to oppose cameras, saying his concern is the parameters of what constitutes a violation.
“It’s not the guy or lady doing 90 mph in a school zone. It’s not the person that’s eight seconds late for a red light,” Watkins said. “But the person who maybe is red as their bumper has gone through the intersection. Or a person who stopped a bit and didn’t cause a real traffic concern doing a right turn.”
“I think that we start setting the thresholds for those, we’re going to go backwards on community goodwill,” he added.
Pasco’s National Citizen Survey in 2015 got mixed results when it asked residents about installing cameras at major intersections to reduce the rate of serious traffic accidents.
Of those who answered the survey mailed to homes, 44 percent said they would strongly support and 26 percent were somewhat supportive. On the flip side, 13 percent were somewhat opposed and 17 percent had strong opinions against cameras.
932 violations in Pasco school zones over 2 days
The online version of the survey showed 32 percent strongly support and 27 percent somewhat, with 41 percent total opposing.
Metzger told the city council that it will probably be late spring before the cameras are installed.
Even then, the city will give motorists a 30-day trial period.
The only cost to Pasco will be the officer’s time in reviewing the evidence before the vendor issues the ticket within a couple of weeks.
Metzger also explained that the city gets to set the standards and fine amounts.
That means drivers may get a slight buffer in speed zones, with cameras only capturing cars going 26 mph or faster.
But so-called “rolling” or “California” stops — where drivers briefly pause before continuing through on a red light — likely won’t be allowed in the right turn lanes at the two major intersections.
The September survey showed that during the same 12-hour period in September, Court Street and 20th Avenue had 119 red light runners with 82 violations.
Metzger noted how people making illegal right turns were even worse than those going straight through the intersection.
Drivers traveling south on 20th Avenue made 38 right turns on red onto Court, and westbound Court Street drivers turned right 47 times onto 20th while the light was red.
The survey also found 932 violations in Pasco school zones over a two-day period, the chief said. School speed zones are in effect for 30 minutes before and after classes.
“Having read those numbers, it’s shocking but it’s kind of expected because we’re growing so much,” said Councilwoman Blanche Barajas.