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Highway work zone safety promoted

Maryland's highway chief says the speed cameras deployed in work zones around the state aren't generating enough fines to cover their operating costs.

And he couldn't be more delighted.

"It is worth our having to come up with additional money to cover the costs," State Highway Administrator Neil J. Pedersen said Wednesday at a news conference to promote safe driving in work zones.

Since the camera program began last fall, Pedersen said, his employees and contractors have noticed a decrease in the number of vehicles going more than 10 mph over the speed limit in work zones. He said police have also noticed fewer crashes.

Pedersen spoke at one of those zones, at Charles Street and the Beltway, as state officials sought to reinforce a message to drive safely in work zones as the summer construction season gets into full swing.

The highway agency is midway through a $44 million project to replace the 55-year-old Charles Street bridge that spans the Beltway at that point — a project workers labor on while traffic zooms by at speeds that are supposed to be reduced to 50 mph.

State officials urged motorists to take care when driving through that work zone and others.

"Construction workers — this is their office. And they're only protected by a helmet and a reflective vest," said Deputy Transportation Secretary Harold M. Bartlett.

The site is one of three in the state where officials have deployed speed cameras to issue $40 tickets to motorists who exceed the speed limit by 12 mph or more in the zone — as authorized by a bill that took effect last fall. A state vehicle equipped with a speed camera was at the site yesterday, monitoring traffic from the Beltway median.

The other two work zones are at the Intercounty Connector's interchange with Interstate 95 near Beltsville and the Express Toll Lane project on I-95 and Interstate-895 to the northeast of Baltimore.

The speed cameras have been the target of fierce opposition from some motorists. But Pedersen said state highway employees and contractors are happy to have them in work zones.

"They've been very, very supportive of the program because they've seen that it has made a difference," he said.

The highway agency faced a challenge in the just-concluded General Assembly session when lawmakers proposed a bill that would have, in effect, turned off the speed cameras when workers were not present. But after opposition from the agency, the proposal was defeated.

Transportation officials said the work zones remain dangerous even when work crews are not present because of lane shifts, unfamiliar traffic patterns and closed shoulders.

According to state highway spokeswoman Valerie Burnette Edgar, four out of five fatalities in crashes in work zones nationally involve drivers and passengers rather than workers.

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