- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 4, 2001

The majority of the D.C. photo-radar and red-light camera citations have been issued to drivers in Maryland and Virginia, raising concerns that city officials are using the technology as a "commuter tax."
"It is a 100 percent possibility that the city is using speed cameras as a revenue initiative and maybe even using them to initiate a commuter tax," said Richard Diamond, spokesman for House Majority Leader Dick Armey.
Mr. Armey, Texas Republican, has long opposed the automated photographic devices as an invasion of privacy and as a revenue-generating tool for municipalities.
Recent figures from D.C. police show that 64 percent of the city's automated speeding citations have been issued to Maryland and Virginia drivers since the photo-radar program began Aug. 6. Last year, 75 percent of the city's red-light-camera citations were issued to Maryland and Virginia drivers.
Earlier figures provided by police showed that 60 percent of its photo-radar citations were issued for violations on heavily traveled commuter roads including highways such as Interstates 295 and 395 and limited-access roads with no intersections or pedestrian traffic.
The city has issued more than 31,000 photo-radar citations this year and more than 240,000 red-light-camera citations since that program began in August 1999.
Some city leaders, including D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, have long argued that the District should tax suburban commuters who work in the city to help cover road-maintenance costs and to recoup revenue commuters would have provided in property and sales taxes if they lived in the District.
Many metropolitan cities, such as New York and Chicago, levy taxes against commuters. Every effort to implement a commuter tax for the District has failed.
When D.C. Council member Adrian M. Fenty took office in January, the Ward 4 Democrat said a major concern was that Maryland and Virginia drivers were "using our roads and not paying taxes."
But Mr. Fenty yesterday said he does not think the District's photographic-citation programs are being used as a commuter tax.
"The biggest complaint [in my ward] is speeding in residential neighborhoods, and I think we would use [speed cameras] even if we had a commuter tax," he said.
Mr. Fenty called for safety measures such as speed bumps and rumble strips on residential roads, as well as longer yellow lights.
Resident Sally Strain, who lives on MacArthur Boulevard, said she favors traffic-calming devices rather than speed cameras in her neighborhood.
"They can't be here to ticket every day, and the speeding will continue," Miss Strain said.
The District has five photo-radar cameras mounted in specially equipped police cars that patrol 60 "enforcement zones" in the city. A sixth photo-radar camera is permanently mounted near Gallaudet University.
The city has 39 red-light cameras mounted at various intersections.
Erik Scrum of the National Motorists Association cited Fairfax County's traffic initiatives as evidence that photographing motorists does not necessarily reduce driving offenses.
"The red-light camera at the intersection of Fair Ridge Drive and U.S. Route 50 issued as many as 1,500 tickets consistently for months, and it did nothing to stop violators, but after they increased the yellow-light time by 1.5 seconds there was an immediate 90 percent drop in red-light running," said Mr. Scrum, whose group advocates for drivers against photo-radar and red-light cameras.
"Engineering changes to roads and traffic lights are always a better solution," he said.
The District's photo-radar cameras have generated $420,584 and issued a total of 31,220 speeding citations since the program's introduction on Aug. 6. The District has collected an average of $69 per citation from 6,081 vehicle owners who have paid their fines.
The fines range from $30 to $200, depending on how much the vehicles exceed the threshold limit set by camera operators at least 11 mph above the posted speed limit.

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