D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams cited the “urgent need” to collect revenue in his recent request to continue the city’s automated traffic-enforcement program, which added four new cameras yesterday, despite previous assurances that use of the technology is driven by concerns for safety, not profits.
“There is an urgent need for the approval of this contract to ensure the continued processing of District tickets and the collection of District revenues,” Mr. Williams wrote in a Dec. 16 letter to D.C. Council Chairman Linda W. Cropp.
In the letter, Mr. Williams was seeking support for the District’s $14.6 million contract with ACS State and Local Solutions, which the council later approved. ACS, a private company, handles fines for the city’s automated traffic-enforcement program.
A spokeswoman for Mr. Williams yesterday said that the mayor’s views about red light and speed cameras haven’t changed and that he probably should have included “an extra sentence about public safety” in his letter to Mrs. Cropp.
“The mayor has always felt that with the red-light cameras and the other equipment we use to catch people who are speeding, safety is our foremost goal,” said Sharon Gang, spokeswoman for Mr. Williams. “He’s never varied from that.”
The mayor’s letter, which makes no mention of public safety, came as the Metropolitan Police Department moved to expand the automated traffic-enforcement program by adding four new fixed-location speed cameras throughout the District yesterday.
Police officers added the speed cameras at the 4700 block of MacArthur Boulevard NW, the 2800 block of Benning Road NE, the 100 block of Michigan Avenue NE and the 5400 block of 16th Street NW.
The District will issue warning citations for the next month before fining speeders nabbed at the four new locations.
Since August 2001, speed cameras have been placed in eight police cruisers that monitor 75 designated spots throughout the District. The program has generated more than $63 million in fines.
In addition, fines from red-light cameras at 39 intersections have totaled more than $28 million since 1999.
The huge windfall for the District has led to criticism of the city’s motives by the motorist club AAA Mid-Atlantic.
Yesterday, AAA called the recent addition of four new speed cameras “an ever-increasing gantlet” for D.C. motorists.
AAA spokesman John Townsend also seized on the mayor’s letter to Mrs. Cropp. He said Mr. Williams’ concern for generating revenue bolsters the case of critics who say the program is designed to fill the public coffers.
“All of our suspicions were realized with that statement,” Mr. Townsend said. “It’s a very telling statement.
“The public is very suspicious of the District’s motives,” he added. “An increasing number of motorists think it is using the technology to raise money not to protect lives.”
However, Kevin Morison, director of corporate communications for the Metropolitan Police Department, said yesterday that the automated cameras could be responsible for a recent drop in the number of speed-related traffic fatalities.
He said there were 17 speed-related traffic fatalities in the District last year, compared with 21 deaths in 2003 and 30 in 2002.
“Do we have a scientific study that says speed cameras and other technology are responsible for the reduction? No, we don’t,” Mr. Morison said. “But certainly I think their use, along with other traditional enforcement efforts, have contributed.”
Public opinion was split at a gas station near one of the newest camera locations on the 2800 block of Benning Road NE yesterday.
Charlie Williams said he thought that the automated program is chiefly a way to generate revenue for the city.
“It’s all about making money,” said Mr. Williams, 64, an apartment manager who lives in Southeast. “I got a ticket because I went through a yellow light. There’s no way to fight it.”
But Don Hackett, 53, of Northeast said he thought the cameras were a good idea.
“This road here is like the Indianapolis Speedway,” said Mr. Hackett, a manager at a taxicab company in the District. “I think it’ll definitely help slow people down.”
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