Mayor: Empire to begin using traffic cams

EMPIRE — Drivers who don’t always pay attention will want to be doing 50 mph through Empire on state Route 7 effective March 19.

It’s the speed limit.

And, on that day, the village will be joining communities in the region to use the Blue Line Solutions LIDAR speed camera.

Mayor Frank Martin said the village has been patrolling its mile of state Route 7, where the speed limit is 50 mph, since he’s been mayor for the past 18 years. He said he’s not worried about criticism that the camera will turn the village into a speed trap.

“I’ve heard that for years. We have vehicles going in excess of 70 mph,” he said.

Martin said the camera, from Blue Line Solutions, will make the job of speed enforcement safer for the village’s police officers. He said the village’s two officers will split time between using the device and conducting their other duties around the village.

“We’ve always run traffic on the highway, but now the officer will be taking a picture instead of chasing vehicles all the time. He will still chase, if it’s warranted,” he said. Martin said patrols have curbed accidents on state Route 7 between Empire and the north end of Stratton. The 50 mph limit runs through the two adjacent villages and resumes the 55 mph limit on the north end of Stratton and the south end of Empire. Martin noted there have been many serious accidents at the traffic light at Stratton Heights Road at the north end of Stratton, near where Route 7 goes under a portion of the Sammis power plant.

Martin said he inquired about Blue Line through other communities that are using the service.

The company counts among its customers East Liverpool, Liverpool Township and Wellsville in Columbiana County to the north. Martin noted the camera is used a lot by East Liverpool in enforcing a school zone along state Route 7 in the southern end of that city.

The camera uses a LIDAR system mounted to a hand-held camera used by the patrol officer.

Empire noted in a press release that because the camera uses an officer to witness, capture, review and issue the citations, it meets state requirements.

The state has had shifting court opinions about the use of cameras, but Martin said the plan meets current requirements.

“We’ll do our job and if we have to go back to using regular radar, it’s what we will do,” he said.

Martin said no one has been issued a ticket by the camera yet in Empire and won’t until the program begins March 19.

Martin said the system is similar to the hand-held units used by the Ohio State Highway Patrol. The difference with Blue Line is that the Chattanooga, Tenn.-based company handles administrative costs in sending out tickets and splits the fees paid with 60 percent going to the village and 40 percent to Blue Line, a standard agreement used in other communities.

The citations issued with the device will be considered civil citations, unlike those made in traffic stops, and will not count with points against the driver’s license, nor will it impact the driver’s insurance rates.

Fines will start at $130 in Empire for the camera tickets.

Failure to pay a fine will result in citations being sent to a collections agency. The registered owner of the cited vehicle will be able to file a written request for an administrative hearing, which will be conducted in Empire magistrate’s court.

To the north, in Columbiana County, Wellsville said it issued 2,300 speeding tickets throughout 2017. A Blue Line camera is used along Route 7 there. East Liverpool said it generated about 4,000 tickets during the first month of using the camera last spring, with about 2,300 tickets sent to vehicle owners.

Blue Line will pay overtime to officers to run the program to enable them to perform their normal duties.

Mingo Junction’s council safety committee rejected the system following a presentation by Blue Line last August.