- The Washington Times - Friday, September 27, 2002

D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams yesterday said he wants to expand the use of traffic cameras because the city needs the money.

"The cameras are about safety and revenue, and the way not to pay that tax is to not be speeding," Mr. Williams said.

The mayor's comments were a change from earlier this year, when Mr. Williams told a radio audience in February that the purpose of the traffic cameras was to "calm" dangerous streets not generate revenue for the city.

The latest comments also contradict months of disavowals by Metropolitan Police Chief Charles H. Ramsey, who has steadfastly contended that the cameras are about safety, not revenue.

But on yesterday's "Ask the Mayor" program on WTOP Radio, Mr. Williams said looming fiscal problems forced the city to get creative in closing a potential $323 million budget deficit.

"The only reason we're looking at the enforcement with revenue figures is because we're in such a bind now," Mr. Williams said.

D.C. Council member Phil Mendelson, at-large Democrat, who has been skeptical of the city's electronic law-enforcement programs, said the latest expansion is a clear indication that the city is starting to see the cameras as revenue sources.

Mr. Williams also discussed on the program his ongoing budget negotiations with the council. He said he is still hoping to gain support for a surcharge tax for the wealthy.

Council Chairman Linda W. Cropp, at-large Democrat, said there is no support in the legislative body for income-tax increases.

Mr. Williams appeared to back off the initiative, saying, "I'm turning to my own counsel and the people to determine whether I should continue to put up this fight."

He said he turned over his final proposal to the council yesterday. The council will hold hearings on the revised budget today and vote on the new fiscal package Tuesday.

The budget plan includes significant cuts in new spending, and several more cuts for city agencies.

The mayor and the council also have put in several revenue generators, such as an increase in the cigarette tax, and fees for 911 service and fire-code violations, as well as the expanded traffic-camera program.

The new budget must be in the hands of Congress by Oct. 2.

The expanded camera program was part of the mayor's budget proposal submitted to the D.C. Council this week. The plan calls for five additional speed cameras, bringing the city's total to 10, and exercising the speed-camera function in the District's existing 39 red-light cameras.

The "Speed on Green" program will utilize red-light cameras to identify and ticket aggressive speeders, said Kevin Morison, spokesman for the Metropolitan Police Department.

"An extra computer chip is installed that tells the camera to photograph vehicles that are traveling above the posted limit when the light is green," he said.

Like the photo-radar cameras, a speed threshold will be set for the computers. If a car passes the camera traveling above the threshold, the camera will activate and a citation will be issued.

D.C. police have not said what the average speed threshold is, but city officials have told The Washington Times that it is between 9 and 11 miles per hour above the posted speed limit.

There will be a 30-day warning period at all new locations before the ticketing process begins, Mr. Morison said. He said there will be no "double-ticket" for motorists who speed and run a red light.

The city is looking to implement Speed on Green at a small number of intersections, "probably two to three at first," he said.

He said two accident fatalities this year at the intersection of Firth Sterling Avenue and Suitland Parkway SE puts that red-light camera location high on the list for the new system.

"We think that Speed on Green, along with the expansion of photo radar, will help us address that problem more effectively," he said.

The computer chips for Speed on Green cost about $10,000 per unit. The five new photo-radar vehicles will cost the city about $500,000.

City officials said it is too early to estimate how many tickets and how much money will be made from the Speed on Green program.

The program's technology does not rely on radar, as the mobile photo-radar vehicles do, Mr. Morison said. The red-light cameras use a time-distance calculation, based on data collected from devices embedded in the roadway, to measure speed.

The city also will have to modify its monthly-fixed-fee contract with Affiliated Computer Services Inc. the Dallas-based company running the cameras for the additional services and increased ticket-processing costs.

As to the revenue-versus-safety issue, Mr. Morison said, "We have never contended that photo enforcement does not generate revenue. But I think most people recognize that the primary benefit of photo enforcement and the primary motivation remains getting people to slow down."


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