Baltimore officials are expanding the city’s speed and red light camera system — nearly doubling the size of the program as it sends out millions of dollars in fines.
Department of Transportation officials said Friday they are adding 44 cameras across Baltimore to the existing fleet of 56, bringing the total number of traffic cameras in the city to 100. The additions will include 19 speed cameras, 19 red light cameras and six cameras designed to catch large trucks traveling on roads where they are not allowed.
“We’re relatively doubling our number of cameras,” said Robert Liberati, director of the city’s speed and red light camera system. “We receive numerous requests for cameras. It’s really about cutting down on reckless and negligent driving.”
City Councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke said she is among those who have requested an expansion of the camera system. She said she notices cars speeding by Barclay Elementary/Middle School where hundreds of students cross the street.
“People speed down there like it’s a speedway,” she said. “I’ve got a couple schools that have been desperate for a camera. The more, the merrier as far as I’m concerned. I don’t have a neighborhood in my district that’s not complaining to me about speeding.”
With the expansion, the system is beginning to approach the size of Baltimore’s former speed and red light camera system, which was shut down in 2013 amid accuracy concerns. At its height, the previous system had more than 160 cameras and generated nearly $20 million in revenue annually. During that time, police officers were asked to review and approve as many as five or six speed camera citations per minute.
Since they were reinstated in August, Baltimore’s speed cameras have issued nearly $8 million in fines — from 196,500 tickets costing violators $40 each. The red light cameras have issued about $4 million in fines — from 55,000 citations costing drivers $75 each.
The fines are outpacing the revenue Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh anticipated when she announced her plan to revive the traffic cameras. Her budget included a projection of $8 million in citations from the cameras for the first year.
The Baltimore Sun investigated the city’s speed camera system in 2012 and reported that the cameras were erroneously issuing tickets, leading to the multi-year shutdown.
The General Assembly passed new regulations, and city officials have pledged greater oversight.
New vendor American Traffic Solutions now has a $5.4 million contract with the city to operate the speed cameras. Conduent Inc. is being paid $4.2 million to run the red light camera system.
Baltimore transportation director Michelle Pourciau once worked for American Traffic Solutions, which was awarded the speed camera contract prior to her hiring. She previously managed Washington’s traffic camera system.
City Councilman Kristerfer Burnett, who represents southwest Baltimore, said he wants to make sure the system is supervised properly so more problems don't arise.
He said he frequently gets requests for the cameras from constituents.
“I get a number of emails and requests from community groups who are concerned about speeding,” he said. “We of course need to make sure there’s proper oversight of the program and that it’s issuing accurate tickets every time. It’s definitely been a popular program in my district.”
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Speed cameras may give out tickets only to motorists who exceed the posted speed limit by at least 12 miles per hour. In Baltimore, they may operate only in school zones, from Monday through Friday between 6 a.m. and 8 p.m.
When Baltimore turns on a new set of speed cameras on Monday, it will operate under new laws that officials say will make the system more reliable and less prone to errors than an old one that had to be shut down.
The cameras monitoring commercial vehicles give out warnings on a first offense to trucks that drive on roads where they are prohibited, followed by a $125 fine on a second offense and a $250 fine thereafter.