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Baltimore spending board approves contract for speed cameras on I-83

Baltimore’s Board of Estimates approved a $6.6 million contract extension Wednesday to fund speed cameras on Interstate 83.

The contract, which was approved by a vote of 4-1, calls for six cameras to be installed at various locations along the Jones Falls Expressway. Only two will be operational at any given time, based upon a plan approved by state lawmakers earlier this year.

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Drivers will have a lengthy grace period to get accustomed to the cameras and adjust their driving habits, said Steve Sharkey, director of the city’s Department of Transportation. For the first 90 days, which will begin Feb. 1, drivers who speed past the cameras will receive warnings, not citations. Speed-tracking signs will also be installed in the area, letting drivers know they are speeding, he said.

“The total goal for this is to make people slow down,” Sharkey said.

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City officials conducted a one-week camera trial near a former Pepsi bottling plant along the interstate, a spot notorious for crashes. During that period, 151,000 of the 360,000 vehicles that passed the camera were traveling more than 12 mph over the speed limit, and 102,000 were driving at least 15 mph over the speed limit, city officials reported to the Board of Estimates.

The top speed recorded was 173 mph, according to city officials.

A separate crash analysis of the roadway found there were more than 2,000 crashes from 2015 to 2019, 50 of them causing severe injuries. In 2020, there were 1,700 calls for service placed from the Baltimore stretch of the roadway, officials reported.

Per the state law that approved the use of the cameras, revenue from citations is required to be used to pay for improvements to the interstate. Sharkey said he expects the amount collected in fines due to the cameras to be $15 million to $20 million annually.

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On Wednesday, the Board of Estimates approved an extension of a contract with the city’s existing speed camera vendor, American Traffic Solutions. The $6.6 million price tag for six months of camera deployment is based on an estimate of 150,000 citations being issued per month, according to the board agenda.

After six months, the city will reset the monthly fee based upon the number of citations that have been generated, Sharkey said. The director said he expects citations to drop as people slow their speeds to compensate for the cameras.

Speed camera revenue would first be used to pay for the cameras and their installation, and would then be used to pay for roadway safety improvements on the interstate, said Marly Cardona-Moz, spokeswoman for the department.

Democratic Council President Nick Mosby, who cast the only vote against the contract extension, said he supports the deployment of the cameras, but questioned why they were being added to an existing contract rather than being separately bid.

“I think this particular vendor, American Traffic Solutions, has probably received the best extension on a contract that I’ve ever seen in my history as an elected official,” Mosby said.

Mosby also said he felt Sharkey’s estimate of the revenue that will be generated by the cameras was too conservative.

Democratic Mayor Brandon Scott, also a member of the board, said he felt it was important to implement the speed cameras as quickly as possible. Frequent crashes on the interstate take up valuable time for city police officers, he said, costing taxpayer money. Also, the safety of city residents and visitors is at risk, he said.

“We know what’s happening there is almost every single day putting people’s lives at risk,” he said. “The way to get this done was as fast as possible.”

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