Ulman to make pitch for bringing speed cameras to Howard Co.

Executive schedules news conference for Tuesday at Ellicott City school

March 07, 2011|By Larry Carson, The Baltimore Sun

After many months of hesitation, speed cameras may be coming to Howard County.

County Executive Ken Ulman has scheduled a news conference Tuesday at Ilchester Elementary School in Ellicott City to make his proposal for the cameras allowed under a law approved by the General Assembly nearly two years ago. Ulman spokesman Kevin Enright declined to comment until the Tuesday event.

Neighboring Baltimore County expanded use of the cameras last month, authorizing an unlimited number instead of the previous maximum of 15. Advocates say that, like older red-light cameras, the devices reduce speeding, save police resources and improve safety. Critics counter that the cameras are too intrusive and are merely used to generate revenue.

If accepted by the County Council, Howard would join Montgomery, Prince George's and Baltimore counties, along with the cities of Baltimore and Laurel, in using the cameras near schools. Maryland state government is using them to slow drivers near five highway work zones. Sykesville town officials initially approved the cameras, too, but voters in the small town on the Howard-Carroll County border defeated the plan.

Although Howard officials said they supported speed cameras during the General Assembly's debate on enabling legislation two years ago, the restrictions limiting the devices to school and highway work zones gave Ulman pause. He ordered police to study speeding near each of the county's 72 schools, then waited months before deciding to go forward.

"They just wanted to have all their ducks in a row and have all their bases covered," said Dale Klamut, who is alarmed by speeding near his family's home on Ilchester Road, near Ilchester Elementary and Bonnie Branch Middle schools, and has pushed for the cameras for years. Commuters from Baltimore County cross the Patapsco River and head up the long hill toward Ellicott City and Route 100 often at high speeds, he said.

"I'm very happy" Ulman is moving forward, Klamut said, recounting how a speeding 17-year-old had recently killed a neighborhood dog in the roadway. "There's plenty of places to go fast in the area. Why go 60 miles per hour in a school zone?"

During a 48-hour period in December 2009, Howard police found 605 vehicles out of 7,203 on Ilchester Road going more than a dozen miles per hour over the speed limit.

County Councilwoman Courtney Watson, a Democrat who represents Ellicott City, said she's no fan of speed cameras but feels they are needed in Klamut's neighborhood.

The once-rural, hilly section is lined with two public and two private schools, but as new homes and buildings were constructed, no provision was made for pedestrians, and parking is often inadequate, Watson said. Many students walk to the schools from their homes.

Criticism of the devices is disputed by supporters such as state Sen. James N. Robey, a Democrat and former Howard County executive and police chief who was instrumental in getting the speed camera bill passed.

"I'm glad he's doing it," Robey said. "I'm very happy it's going forward."

Robey, like many current and former police officials, says the cameras are less intrusive than an officer peering into someone's car, and the $40 fine barely pays the cost of the program. More important, according to Robey, cameras effectively reduce speeding without using police officers needed for other tasks or risking their safety.

Under the compromise approved in April 2009, the devices are only allowed within a half-mile of schools and at roadway work areas. Drivers going 12 mph or more above the speed limit would receive the $40 tickets, and no points would be assessed on a driver's record. Robey originally wanted the cameras allowed on any county road with a speed limit up to 45 mph, as well as a $75 fine for violators.

"I've always felt the need is there," he said.

larry.carson@baltsun.com

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