Maryland's drivers should be getting the hint right about now that speeding in highway construction zones will cost them.
Almost 8,800 drivers were given $40 tickets during a six-week period that began Nov. 16, when state officials started photographing vehicles exceeding the speed limit by 12 mph or more on three stretches of highway marked as work zones.
"The goal is to modify driver behavior, and we hope motorists are starting to get the message as citations are being mailed out," said David Buck, a spokesman for the State Highway Administration.
Most of all, he said, the idea is to "get folks to slow down in our work zones," a serious concern when construction workers, often operating heavy equipment, are busy building or fixing roads and bridges as traffic zooms by. Nearly 1,000 fatalities and 43,000 serious injuries occur in the United States each year as a result of vehicle accidents around work zones, according to the SHA's Web site.
During the new program's first six weeks, the cameras led to 3,365 citations to vehicles traveling on Interstate 95 between White Marsh Boulevard and I-895; 4,790 around the Charles Street exit of Baltimore's Beltway; and 590 on I-95 in Prince George's County.
The lower numbers on the stretch of I-95 that will intersect with the new Intercounty Connector, Buck said, are largely a result of a 65 mph speed limit, meaning that a motorist would have to be traveling at 77 mph or more to receive a citation. On I-695 at Charles Street, the speed limit is 50 mph - and has been marked at that limit since well before the speed-camera program began - meaning that a motorist would need only to be clocked at 62 mph or more to trigger a ticket. The I-95 work zone north of Baltimore has a 55 mph limit.
The cameras are installed in a pair of white Jeeps that rotate among the three locations. Motorists are alerted to the possible presence of the cameras by signs that say, "Speed Photo Enforced: Work Zone."
Each of the Jeeps, officially known as Automated Speed Enforcement camera units, is typically parked in a work zone, in a spot chosen the previous evening by taking into account the shifting logistics of the construction. The camera operator in the Jeep is a vendor under contract to the state, and not a state trooper, Buck said. The equipment is calibrated before and after each shift.
After the camera takes a picture of the speeding vehicle, the image is reviewed and, if it is apparent that a violation has occurred, the Motor Vehicle Administration is asked for the driver's identity and address. A citation will then be mailed out. No points are being assessed, but anyone who fails to pay the fine or contest the ticket in court could face additional penalties, and the vehicle's registration could be suspended.
Asked whether the number of tickets was more or less than had been expected, Buck said it was too early to tell. "We are not yet two months into our pilot. More data will be needed before we are able to ascertain any trend."
But the program, which is to last until June 30, got off to a fast start. In its first two weeks, through Nov. 30, more than 1,400 citations were mailed to motorists traveling through one of the three work zones. Before the program began in earnest on Nov. 16, there was an initial test period that began on Oct. 1, during which motorists caught speeding by the cameras were given warnings.
The three work zones were chosen in part for their size. The Charles Street project at I-695 is set to cost around $50 million and includes considerable work on the overpass. Work began almost a year ago and could take three years to finish.
The ICC project, which began in the fall of 2007, is many times bigger. It will cost about $2.5 billion. When completed, the ICC will cross I-95 between state Routes 198 and 212.
The SHA's cameras were put into action as a result of legislation in the 2009 General Assembly that permits them around schools and construction zones.
In Baltimore County, officials are setting up 15 speed cameras in school zones. Cpl. Michael Hill, a county police spokesman, said that surveys for the program have been completed and permits for electrical service through Baltimore Gas & Electric are being finalized. Hill said officials were working with Comcast to provide the cameras.
"This has been a very complex process, and we want to make sure it is done right," Hill said.
He added that Police Chief James W. Johnson's office "continues to take telephone calls from residents who are interested in seeing more cameras put out into the neighborhoods, over and above the 15 that will be in service in the near future."
Hill said that county residents are "very receptive to the implementation of these cameras, which will enhance the public safety in our neighborhoods."