- The Washington Times - Saturday, December 28, 2002

Mayor Anthony A. William's admission that the District is using speeding cameras to make money was one of the worst transportation developments of the last year in the metropolitan area, according to AAA Mid-Atlantic.

"AAA supports these things if they're done for safety's sake, but when money is the motive, there's every opportunity to abuse them," spokesman Lon Anderson said.

In its "Transportation Cheers and Jeers for 2002," the automobile club ranked Mr. William's admission in September as the year's third-worst local transportation development. The No. 1 worst development is the region's traffic congestion, which is the nation's third worst; No. 2 is Northern Virginia's defeat of the sales tax referendum for transportation.

AAA cited as one of the best developments the decision by local governments in July to synchronize traffic lights among Maryland, Virginia and the District during the next three years to ease congestion and reduce air pollution.

Mr. Anderson credited coverage by The Times with helping to bring about the traffic-light synchronization. The Times in May 2001 first reported about the benefits of synchronization after a yearlong analysis of metropolitan-area rush hours.

AAA's No. 1 best development is Montgomery County's decision to tackle its transportation problems, most notably by solidifying support for the long-planned Intercounty Connector that would link Interstate 270 in the county to Interstate 95 in Prince George's County. The No. 2 best development is the contracting bids for the Woodrow Wilson Bridge replacement meeting the targeted budget figure for the project.

During the first 16 months of operation, the District's speeding camera program has generated more than 432,000 citations and more than $21.6 million in fines.

Mr. Williams had denied that the city was operating traffic cameras with revenue as a primary motive. He and police Chief Charles H. Ramsey said the cameras were being used solely for safety, noting that motorists are driving more slowly through the city.

In September, the mayor said the speeding cameras were "about safety and revenue, and the way not to pay that tax is not to be speeding." A week later, AAA told The Times that it had withdrawn its support for the District's traffic camera program, citing Mr. Williams' comments.

"We think that automated traffic enforcement has its place, as long as it's strictly regulated and used for safety purposes. As soon as revenue is involved," Mr. Anderson said, "that's when AAA is opposed."

Mr. Anderson said a speeding camera on Arizona Avenue near Canal Road is a good example of traffic camera enforcement used more for revenue than for safety. The camera next to a steep hill on Arizona Avenue, where the speed limit is 25 mph is "more a demonstration of gravity than it is of catching wanton criminals," he said.

The synchronization of metropolitan traffic lights is AAA's fourth-best development in 2002.

On July 31, regional officials approved a $3 million clean-air program that will synchronize traffic lights along 19 major corridors and at 856 intersections from 2003 to 2005. It is estimated that the synchronization may reduce commute times by more than 10 percent.

Mr. Anderson said that while coordinating traffic flow is overdue, "at least we're finally going to get it done."

"It's ludicrous that we've got all these lights in our region and then we find out they don't work together," he said. "All these lights that are supposed to be improving traffic are actually impeding traffic because when one is turning green the other is turning red. We spend billions of dollars on transportation projects, and for $3 million we might be able to get a 10 percent improvement."

AAA is a national automobile club that supports adequate highways, traffic safety and the elimination of car-related taxes.

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