D.C.

D.C. speed cameras profiting big as more get installed

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The District of Columbia introduced 27 new photo radar locations across the city on Wednesday, and as they do, the debate between people who think they promote safety and others who see them strictly as revenue generators continues to rage.

No matter how it's spun, though, the amount of revenue that the District is bringing in from speed cameras is staggering, and even some D.C. Councilmembers are admitting that the city is balancing its budget on the backs of drivers.

MAP: The 27 new photo radar locations in the District

According to data obtained in an information request, ABC 7 News has learned that the city has already issued nearly 50,000 more speed camera tickets in 2012 than it did all of last year. Meanwhile, the city has collected $194 million in net revenue from speed and red light cameras since 2008.

As the numbers go up - D.C. is right on pace to eclipse 2011's gross revenue of $55.14 million from the cameras - even members of Washington's leadership are singing different tunes.

  FY 2008 FY 2009 FY 2010 FY 2011 FY 2012
Gross Revenue $14.81M $34M $50.15M $55.14M $40.3M
Operating Costs $6.65M $7.53M $16.59M $21.09M $10.58M
Net Revenue $8.16M $26.47M $33.56M $34.05M $29.72M

"I would say it's probably more about money because it was put in the budget to balance the budget," D.C. Councilman Jack Evans said. "If it was for safety purposes, it probably would have been handled differently."

That's a far different tune what than D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray was singing several weeks ago, when he wanted to "underscore (that) this is not about revenue." However, according to the mayor's new budget, which passed earlier this week, the new speed camera locations could add an extra $30 million for the city.

That new budget has provisions that will double the number of traffic cameras in the District.

MORE: The full list of D.C. speed camera locations (MPD.dc.gov)

In the meantime, the new cameras are going up, in some cases, in high traffic areas with lower speed limits, such as on 14th Street SW at the D.C. end of the 14th Street Bridge and at the 9th Street tunnel. The speed limit at both of those new photo radar spots is 35 miles-per-hour.

In total, the District has easily lapped last year's total number of speed camera citations issued, and the city is on pace to eclipse the number of red light tickets as well.

Fiscal Year Speed Cameras Red Light Cameras
2010 533,753 84,412
2011 378,033 84,568
2012 (through April) 419,523 52,797

Beyond taking issue with the cameras, tickets and fines on their own, some drivers claim that the speed limit in some of the targeted areas is lower than it should be.

"I think when traffic is light, 35 is way too slow for the bridge," D.C. driver Greg Schwallenberg said. "I probably go 45 or 50 anyway, so I'll probably get caught."

Schwallenberg isn't alone. ABC 7 went to the bridge with a radar gun just before the evening rush one night last week and clocked many drivers going as fast as 60 mph, nearly double the posted speed limit. It's the main reason D.C. Police Chief Cathy Lanier says the city is putting cameras in these areas.

"If you don't slow down before you merge, that's where we have a lot of collisions," Lanier said.

In addition, Lanier underscored her argument by saying that during the month where the new photo radar locations were being tested, the city issued 10,000 warning citations.

ABC7's Justin Karp contributed to this report.

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