AND IN THE all-too-familiar category of They-Can't-Seem-to-Get-Anything-Right, here's how your state Legislature threatens to screw up something that actually seems to work in Philadelphia.

At issue is reauthorizing the city's red-light-camera safety program on the killer highway that is Roosevelt Boulevard, that multi-lane monster in the Great Northeast.

Its nickname ought to be "Death Road."

The camera program, a pilot started in 2005 and run by the Philadelphia Parking Authority, films and fines drivers running red lights - and I mean a lot of them - and is touted by local officials as a proven success that saves lives.

"It really has made a difference," says veteran Republican Rep. George Kenney, who represents a district through which the Boulevard runs.

PPA, which rarely (especially these days) has much to brag about, offers evidence that the program should continue.

It notes that while fatal accidents occur too often on the Boulevard - a dozen in the last 18 months - there were no fatalities at any of the eight intersections where red-light cameras are in place (there are 52 lighted intersections), and accidents are significantly down.

You may recall that State Farm Insurance back in '01 named two Boulevard intersections (at Red Lion Road and at Grant Avenue; red-light cameras have since been installed at both) as the second- and third- most-dangerous in America - and they were beat out only by an intersection in Pembroke Pines, Fla., where retirees apparently play serious bumper cars.

Well, the apparently life-saving red-light pilot (which brought in close to $700,000 this year) is set to end, and the Legislature's playing games with it.

Freshman Rep. Tony Payton, D-Philly, who, like Kenney, represents areas that include the Boulevard, is prime sponsor of a bill to extend the pilot through 2010.

Payton calls efforts to bog down his bill "political grandstanding, typical of Harrisburg."

Kenney says he's worried, but "I hope we can work it out."

The problem? Some upstate lawmakers are upset about the planned tolling of Interstate 80 across northern Pennsylvania and a proposal to give some of the money from red-light-running fines to Philly schools (currently it all goes to PennDOT).

As a result, Payton's reauthorization bill has amendments and an uncertain future against a ticking clock: The pilot program expires Dec. 31.

Rep. Fred McIlhattan, R-Clarion County (through which I-80 runs in western PA), wants to stop the I-80 tolls, which would be used to fund SEPTA, other transit agencies, and road and bridge repair.

And he has an amendment to prevent Philly schools from getting any red-light money. He'd steer it to rural bridge projects.

Rep. Mario Scavello, R-Monroe County (through which I-80 runs in eastern PA), has an amendment to ban tolls of any kind within 40 miles of the New Jersey border - in other words, in his district.

Other amendments would help bus companies, create a farmland-preservation license plate and fund rail service in Harrisburg.

And so it goes.

With just a handful of legislative days left before the end of the year, the red-light-camera reauthorization bill is stuck in the muck of parochial, often partisan, politics so common to Pennsylvania.

And longtime Rep. Dwight Evans, D-Philly, chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, is frustrated.

"Here's a program that's working and makes good sense and it's stalled," he said.

It is hard to imagine even this Legislature ending a program that boosts both public safety and state coffers (under Payton's bill, half the fine money still goes to PennDOT).

But then this Legislature continues to demonstrate that the late, great H.L. Mencken was right when he said, "Democracy is the art of running the circus from the monkey cage." *

Send e-mail to baerj@phillynews.com.

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