- The Washington Times - Monday, October 6, 2003

A D.C. Council member has proposed legislation that would divert money raised through automated speed cameras from the general fund to the Highway Trust Fund and require Mayor Anthony A. Williams to evaluate the fairness of speed limits on roads where cameras are placed.

The bill, the subject of a Committee on Public Works and the Environment hearing last week, was introduced in January by D.C. Council member Phil Mendelson. It would reallocate a lucrative stream of revenue totaling more than $33 million since the automated traffic-enforcement system was first installed in August 2001.

“What happened is when [the automated camera system] was introduced, it was a new revenue source,” said Mr. Mendelson, at-large Democrat. “Now the government is fat and happy on the money it’s generated.” He said it was his hope to “snatch that revenue before the general fund became addicted to it” and make more money available for road repairs and highway improvements.

Mr. Mendelson said a major problem with the camera system is that in many areas of the city, speed limits are set inconsistently. On eight-lane Constitution Avenue, a main artery in and out of town, the speed limit is 25 mph, while a residential area of four-lane Massachusetts Avenue has a 30 mph speed limit.

He said using cameras capable of generating 300 speeding tickets an hour is conditioning drivers to obey speed limits that don’t reflect the capacity of roads, and that disrupts traffic flow throughout the city.

“I’m not interested in having anyone drive faster,” he said, adding that more realistic speed limits would reduce the appearance of cameras as a revenue-generating tool. No date has been set for a vote on the measure.

Lon Anderson, director of public and government relations for AAA Mid-Atlantic, said channeling camera revenue to the Highway Trust Fund is a “step in the right direction.”

“I think Phil Mendelson’s idea is a good one,” he said. “Certainly, transportation in the District of Columbia needs the money. I think the further they get this away from the general fund, the less incentive they’re going to have to use it to raise revenue.”

Mr. Anderson’s organization supports automated enforcement when it is “initiated, motivated and run for safety purposes.”

AAA Mid-Atlantic withdrew its support of the District’s automated-enforcement program in October after Mr. Williams conceded that generating revenue was a factor in the city’s use of the cameras.

In an August speech before the Governors’ Highway Safety Association’s national convention in New Orleans Mr. Anderson referred to the program as a “shakedown” and called for a “motorists’ bill of rights” against abuses of automated-enforcement systems.

Patrol cars mounted with the speed cameras are deployed in 67 zones around the city.

According to the most recent Metropolitan Police Department statistics, the city collected $33,787,977 in fines from photo-radar cameras between August 2001 and August 2003. The speeding cameras issued 651,000 citations, 453,500 of which have been paid.

The District also collected $22,757,799 in fines from red-light camera citations from August 1999 through August 2003. The red-light cameras issued 392,997 citations, of which 262,905 have been paid.

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