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Thousands Of Speeders Get Tickets In Heath

Heath is a small city that does a lot of business. At night, it's counts only 9,500 people but, during the day, the population swells to around 40,000. And most of those people drive through on Route 79.

Mayor Richard Waugh says the Ohio Department of Transportation has done studies on this stretch of road since 1993 - and recorded increasing numbers of accidents at every point.

"These three lane-miles in the city of Heath ranked number 21, 22, and 23 in municipalities and state highways for the worst accident rates in the state of Ohio," says Waugh.

Heath's police department has only 18 officers and Chief Anthony Shepard says he unable to assign officers to Route 79.

"With 17,000 calls for service - and that was last year, that goes up every year - we're finding ourselves with less and less time to devote to traffic enforcement," says Shepard.

So the city turned to the Australian company Redflex to monitor five of the intersections. The cameras record cars speeding and running red lights.

Officials say they were shocked by how many infractions they recorded: during the first week of July, nearly 4,000 speeding violations were logged. Waugh anticipates the tickets will be sent out next week.

Some residents are glad the city is doing something about that stretch of road. Joan Holderby lives in Hebron but comes through on Route 79 to get to church. She has no problem with the cameras.

"And it's just slowing people down. And being aware that we need to slow down and watch our speed limits. There have been some very bad accidents where they do have the cameras," says Holderby.

But many residents, business-owners, and 79-commuters are not happy.

"I think they're a horrible idea." Frank Dull's family owns a store called Finds of the Phoenix in Indian Mound Mall. He says he's lost customers who received tickets and refused to come back.

"They're killing my business here in the mall. I understand the number of tickets are outrageous and the public has responded by just not coming out to the mall anymore. In just one week's time, our sales have dropped by half," says Dull.

Duane Goodwin, who owns a sign business along 79, started a petition to ban the cameras. He has about 300 signatures so far. Goodwin only needs 193 to get the issue on November's ballot, but he wants to get 600 before he submits it to city hall. Goodwin says the cameras are bad for Heath's many businesses.

"With a daytime population of 45,000, we're in a great position. And for them to do anything to chase people off our streets Why go into Heath and take a chance to go into Heath to go shopping?" says Goodwin.

Mayor Waugh says he's heard about business concerns and he takes them seriously. But he says potential customers see it both ways.

"We've also heard that I'm coming back to Heath because I didn't want to drive on these streets because they were traveling too fast and it was unsafe. And now that traffic has slowed down I will again back to Heath to visit and shop."

Other people think the cameras are just a way for the city to increase its revenues. Dan Long works at a Honda Dealership in Heath. He lives in Newark, and drive on Route 79 every day.

"I think it's a way for them to make money. Anybody can slip up and have a couple miles-an-hour over, just by not watching the speed at that second because they're watching maybe another car to see what another car is doing or something like that," says Long.

The speeding tickets cost $100 each. Each month, Redflex keeps about 30% of the first 150 tickets, and then about 20% of each one after that. Heath keeps the rest. That means the tickets from the first week netted the city more than $300,000 dollars.

But Mayor Waugh says revenue has nothing to do with it.

"This was strictly safety-drive. It was from the beginning and it has been throughout the whole process. We're trying to reduce accidents, make the city a safer place for people who live here as well as people who visit," says Waugh.

Since the cameras were installed, people are paying more attention to the speed limit. Violations in the corridor are down, and people on all sides of the debate anticipate the number of tickets will continue to decrease.

The speed limit along that section of 79 is 35 miles per hour. Mayor Waugh wouldn't give the exact speed that triggers a ticket, but he says drivers will be safe going 40 and under.