Houston reaches red light camera settlement

January 23, 2012 3:59:12 PM PST
It's a device that has caused confusion, frustration and debate throughout the city of Houston: the red light camera.

The city ordered the cameras turned off and stopped issuing red light camera violations last August, but it looks like their saga is far from over.

Last year, Houston shut down the controversial cameras after residents rose up against them. That decision could cost the city big this year.

According to documents Eyewitness News obtained Saturday, the city of Houston and red light camera manufacturer American Traffic Solutions have come up with a compromise and settlement agreement.

In that proposal, the city would agree to pay ATS more than $12 million dollars for the breached red light camera contract, which ends in 2014.

ATS and the city of Houston have been fighting it out in court since voters decided in November they wanted the cameras turned off.

After the public saw those cameras were turned off and then turned on again, it took a vote by city council members in August to ultimately turn off the red light cameras off permanently.

ATS was seeking $25 million from the city of Houston for breach of contract.

If city council approves this settlement, the city will pay around $4.78 million dollars to ATS up front, but the potential pay-out could climb to about $12 million over the next three years.

The funds to pay the settlement will come from previously collected fines that are in escrow and the approximately $25 million the city is still owed in outstanding red light camera fines issued when the program was still operational.

Under the terms of the agreement, ATS will be paid $2.3 million up front. This represents the amount ATS would have received had the red light cameras remained on from the date they were initially turned off following the voter initiative in November 2010 to December of 2011.

ATS will also receive another $2.4 million over the next three years. This additional amount is meant to address the amounts ATS could have received under its contract with the city, based on collection of delinquent red light camera fines.

In exchange for the payments, ATS has agreed to end its legal fight with the city and remove all of its cameras from Houston intersections within 60 days of approval of the settlement by Houston City Council.

Houston's legal department is recommending that the council approve the settlement. They are also recommending that council authorize the mayor to enter into additional third party agreements to support the collection of outstanding fines, if necessary.

George J. Hittner, ATS general counsel and corporate secretary, told us the deal has taken all sides weeks to iron out.

"We've gone through two mediations, we've had a lot of dialogue with the city, and at this point and time, we believe we've reached an agreement that will be presented to city council," Hittner said. "I think it's in the best interest of both sides to put this matter behind them, and let's move on."

In a statement released Saturday evening from City Hall, Mayor Annise Parker said "I am thankful that traffic violators, not Houston taxpayers, will be paying for this. This is a reasonable settlement and I thank the City legal department for its diligence in getting it done."

Please stay with Eyewitness News and abc13.com for updates as we continue to follow this developing story.