By Michael Dresser, The Baltimore Sun
7:34 PM EST, December 5, 2012
Lawmakers chastised the State Highway Administration Wednesday over an audit that criticized the agency's work-zone speed camera program even as officials said that any problems with the program have been resolved.
The state Office of Legislative Audits released a report last week that criticized the highway agency for failing to have its vendor's cameras independently tested for accuracy during the first nine months of the program. Auditors also faulted the 2010 process by which the SHA awarded the contract to manage the cameras to the sole bidder, now known as Xerox State and Local Solutions.
The vendor is the same company that manages speed cameras in Baltimore school zones that were found in a Baltimore Sun investigation to be generating erroneous tickets.
Senate Minority Leader E.J. Pipkin, an Upper Shore Republican, noted the auditors' finding that while bids were being evaluated, highway officials had cut the required percentage of readable license plate images from 95 percent to 90 percent. He suggested that if the minimum had been set lower earlier, the state could have attracted more bidders.
"This is a growing business, to say the least," Pipkin said.
Auditors also found that during a pilot project from October 2009 to June 2010, only 44 percent of the violation photos were readable. The report found that the agency did not establish benchmarks called for in the contract with Xerox.
Melinda Peters, who became state highway administrator late last year, said that after the pilot program began, officials realized that the radar-based technology initially used was inadequate for multilane highways. She said that technology was replaced with a laser-based system with a much higher readability rate.
After that system was implemented in 2010, Peters said, it was tested by the manufacturer and Xerox but not by an independent laboratory. Since that testing was added in early 2011, she said, all cameras have been calibrated and no problems have been found.
Peters said the agency's SafeZones speed camera program has succeeded in reducing speeds in work zones and that traffic fatalities in those areas are down.
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