- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 19, 2012

Top-down government is rarely a good idea. Federal and state capitals ought to limit themselves to matters that can’t be handled at the local level, so Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell had the right idea when he appointed a task force to examine ways Richmond can reduce the red tape layered on city and county governments. Unfortunately, the recommendations the governor released Monday got the balance all wrong.

Some of the key proposals read like a wish list from local mayors desperate to extract more revenue from the public with less accountability. That isn’t localism; it’s big government.

One recommendation would authorize cities to drag their feet in responding to freedom-of-information requests. Most municipalities already don’t take their existing disclosure responsibilities seriously, citing phony exemptions, secure in the knowledge that the average citizen lacks the resources to challenge noncompliance in court.

Another part of the misguided proposal would let cities run wild raising revenue with red-light cameras. Greedy town politicians are outraged that they must conduct an engineering study before they can hire a private, for-profit company to put up a robotic camera that issues traffic tickets. Under current law, the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) makes an objective evaluation of each request. So far, it has denied camera locations in Arlington, Chesapeake, Falls Church, Fairfax and Leesburg.


The Washington Times obtained copies of the denial letters, all of which shared a common theme. Fairfax, for example, wanted a camera at Main Street and Pickett Road purportedly to reduce the number of T-bone accidents at the location. VDOT noted the location experienced only one angle crash in three years but 12 rear-end collisions. Experience has shown that ticket-fearing drivers frequently panic and hit the brakes when a light is yellow near a camera, which increases rear-enders. “At this intersection, there is already much higher number of rear-end collisions than the angle crashes and in our judgment is not suitable for the red-light camera application,” VDOT’s letter stated.

VDOT also ordered Falls Church to update its pavement markings and conform yellow-time length to the minimum state standard before it would approve the use of traffic cameras. Every VDOT rejection was well-reasoned and in the best interest of public safety. Yet in acceptances, VDOT has been too accommodating. The agency allowed Albemarle County to install a camera at an approach that had experienced zero accidents related to red-light running. Alexandria was given the green light to install a camera at a location where the city shortened yellow signal times to maximize revenue.

It’s obvious that money is all these municipalities care about, or else they wouldn’t be so interested in installing cameras where they can’t possibly have a positive impact on safety. That’s why the state needs to serve as a check on their venal designs.

Mr. McDonnell has already made the situation worse by signing legislation to convert school buses into money-making camera traps at a time when voters from Albuquerque to Houston to Sykesville, Md., have rejected them by wide margins at the ballot box. Mr. McDonnell needs to realize he represents the people of the commonwealth first, not its mayors and city councils.

The Washington Times