Flash units have been switched on.
The cameras’ focus and aperture have been set. And since 12:01 this morning, motorists driving 76 mph or faster on Loop 101 through Scottsdale have been captured in digital images.
By daybreak, a handful of people have likely had their pictures snapped by the city’s photo enforcement equipment, said Paul Porell, Scottsdale’s traffic engineering director. A written warning should be in the mail shortly.
“We might have a few hits around 2:30 a.m.,” Porell said on Friday, referring to those leaving bars after last call at 2 a.m.
Those motorists would be the first participants in Scottsdale’s experiment to determine if cameras can reduce speed on a freeway as safely and effectively as they do on surface streets.
The test itself — using mounted cameras to digitally patrol a freeway — is the first of its kind in the United States, said Doug Hecox, a spokesman for the Federal Highway Administration.
It also has been a highly charged political issue. A few state lawmakers have repeatedly proposed legislation to outlaw use of photo enforcement equipment on Arizona freeways. While each attempt has failed, legislators have already drawn up plans to hinder Scottsdale’s test.
Some residents have emerged as vocal critics of freeway cameras, arguing that it is inappropriate for the city to oversee enforcement on a state freeway. Opponents also contend that photo enforcement poses a safety risk to motorists driving at high rates of speed — as they have been on Loop 101 — if they slow too rapidly to avoid being caught and cause a major collision.
The cameras have been photographing and flashing drivers since Thursday without incident as workers with Redflex Traffic Systems — a private firm working for the city — prepared the equipment.
“No, we have not received any calls about having anybody slamming on their brakes because of the flash,” Porell said. “This myth will someday be put to bed.”
Hawaii launched a similar trial on its freeways in 2001 but used radar and camera equipment placed in vans, which were moved around to target different sections, Hecox said. That program ended without any serious problems being reported, he said.
“There’s a lot of these traffic planners that are watching this thing,” Hecox said of Scottsdale’s test.
The trial is scheduled to run nine months with six cameras stationed on an eight-mile-stretch of Loop 101 between the Scottsdale Road and 90th Street exits. That area has been deemed a serious problem, with the highway patrol pulling over motorists driving as fast as 120 mph.
Data collected by Scottsdale on Loop 101 shows that more than 50 percent of cars are moving faster than the speed limit on weekdays, except during the morning and afternoon rush hours, said Simon Washington, an Arizona State University traffic engineering professor.
“The potential for giving tickets is very high,” Washington said.
But no citations are to be issued until Feb. 22, Porell said, giving motorists time to adjust to the new speed enforcement before facing a $157 fine.
The city has formed an evaluation team and tapped Washington to lead it. He has already studied the effectiveness of redlight and speed cameras on surface streets in Phoenix and Scottsdale.
As the test progresses, the evaluation team is expected to monitor the impact of the cameras on the flow and speed of traffic on that stretch of Loop 101, Washington said. The team also will have representatives from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the Arizona Department of Transportation, the Governor’s Office of Highway Safety, Scottsdale and the Legislature.
If successful, Scottsdale could serve as a model for lowering speed on freeways across the state and nation. Gov. Janet Napolitano has publicly supported the test.
ADOT has worked closely with the city on the photo enforcement planning, but now the transportation department is no longer involved, said Doug Nintzel, spokesman for the agency.
“I would describe us as very interested sideline spectators,” Nintzel said.
While it is too early to gauge whether the cameras are influencing motorists, Washington said it is likely some have slowed just knowing cameras are there, as has happened on surface streets.
“The whole idea, really, if it’s effective, is not to give tickets,” he said. “The idea is to get people to drive the speed limit.”