Wednesday, March 23, 2005

The District will expand its electronic surveillance of motorists by planting sensors in the Anacostia Freeway.

The new device, near the Anacostia Naval Station, is designed to catch overweight trucks, and Metropolitan Police Department officers will issue on-the-spot fines.

“We will have a virtual weight station that will be embedded into the pavement,” Bill Rice, spokesman for the Department of Transportation, said yesterday. “It’s one of a kind in the country, that we know of, because the enforcement element is tied to the weighing.”

Mr. Rice said the new station will cost $1 million and is being built, in part, because of the heavy truck traffic that is damaging the freeway, which is part of Interstate 295 within city limits.

He said vehicles that the sensors flag as overweight will be directed to an off-ramp area for further inspection. Drivers found in violation will receive a ticket. Officials could not say when the station would be operating.

A truck driver told The Washington Times yesterday that he is wary of the city’s intentions.

“It seems like a legal, back-door commuter tax,” said Ronald Hutchinson, 53, of Fort Washington, who has driven trucks for more than 30 years. “I’m sure the fines are going to be healthy. For the city to [build] it, obviously they feel there’s money in those hills.”

The fines will be $100 for the first 5,000 pounds over the limit and $6 for each additional 100 pounds.

The city already has three conventional or “static” weight stations: New York and South Dakota avenues in Northeast; Pennsylvania Avenue at the John Phillip Sousa Bridge in Southeast; and Kenilworth Avenue at the 11th Street Bridge in Southeast.

The police department has used another electronic device — cameras — since 2001 to deter motorists from violating speed and traffic light laws.

Since the cameras have been deployed, the percentage of speeding motorists has decreased from 30 percent to a little more than 3 percent, according to police. Traffic fatalities also have declined from 45 in 2001 to 17 in 2004.

The programs have collected more than $100 million in fines, which cover the cost of the cameras and operations. Although police and government officials say the cameras reduce danger, critics say the cameras were put in place strictly to generate revenue.

Maryland has 11 permanent stations with fixed scales and seven pull-off locations for mobile crews.

The state does not track revenue or keep statistics on the number of citations issued, said state police spokesman Sgt. Thornnie Rouse.

However, according to agency documents, fines for oversized vehicles on state roads range from $55 to more than $2,000.

The State Highway Administration reports that Maryland annually weighs about 1.8 million trucks and commercial vehicles and inspects 95,000 vehicles.

Virginia’s Department of Motor Vehicles has 13 permanent stations and 12 mobile crews across the state. The permanent stations are staffed with technicians who weigh vehicles, collect truck data and provide state police with information for overweight citations. The 12 mobile crews also are equipped with portable scales.

Violators are fined $47 plus a per-pound assessment, based on the weight in excess of the permit.

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