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Speed cameras are coming to I-83 in Baltimore in February. Here’s what you need to know.

Smile, speed demons, you’re on camera. Or you will be soon.

In February, long-awaited speed cameras will be installed on one of Baltimore’s busiest thruways: Interstate 83. After years of serious crashes and complaints by drivers and public officials alike, scofflaw drivers can expect to get a ticket in the mail if they choose to sail through the corridor at an unsafe speed.

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Per the state law that authorized the cameras for I-83, six cameras will be installed along the roughly 8-mile Baltimore City stretch of the roadway, although only two will operate at any one time. Drivers traveling more than 12 mph over the speed limit will receive $40 citations for each violation.

Tickets won’t arrive in the mail right away, however. There’s a 90-day grace period in hopes of encouraging drivers to slow down rather than incur tickets. During that period, speeding drivers will receive only warnings in the mail.

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“The total goal for this is to make people slow down,” Steve Sharkey, director of Baltimore’s director of transportation told members of Baltimore’s Board of Estimates last month when they approved a $6.6 million contract extension to pay for the first several months of the cameras’ deployment.

Traffic navigates curves on the Jones Falls Expressway near Woodberry before dawn Wednesday.
Traffic navigates curves on the Jones Falls Expressway near Woodberry before dawn Wednesday. (Jerry Jackson/Baltimore Sun)

The locations of the six cameras are under consideration, said Marly Cardona-Moz, spokeswoman for the Department of Transportation. But drivers will know where the cameras are before they become operational via advisories posted online, she said.

As they make decisions about where the cameras go, DOT officials are weighing crash data from the roadway, as well as data collected during a test run in March 2020.

That one-week test, conducted from a location near the former Pepsi bottling plant, found that 151,000 of the 360,000 vehicles that passed the camera — 42% — were going more than 12 mph over the speed limit. Speed limits along the Baltimore stretch of I-83 vary from 40 mph as the roadway spills into downtown Baltimore to 55 mph. More than a quarter of vehicles that passed the test camera were driving at least 15 mph over the limit.

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The top speeds recorded were hard to believe — and perhaps a product of the faster driving seen on less-crowded roads during the coronavirus pandemic. The fastest-moving vehicle was clocked at 173 mph, crossing the camera’s path at 5 p.m. on a Wednesday. The next fastest vehicle was recorded moving 144 mph at 10 a.m. the next day. Another vehicle traveled at 134 mph at 9 a.m. on a Monday.

Traffic navigates curves on the Jones Falls Expressway near Woodberry before dawn Wednesday.
Traffic navigates curves on the Jones Falls Expressway near Woodberry before dawn Wednesday. (Jerry Jackson/Baltimore Sun)

While the goal is to get drivers to slow down, there will certainly be revenue collected as a result of the cameras. The state legislation enabling the cameras requires money raised to be used for improvements to the roadway.

Funds will first pay for the cameras, which cost the city $6.6 million for the first six months of deployment, Cardona-Moz said. After that, the money will be used to clean the road, remove graffiti, and make repairs to the highway. Funds could also be used for lighting on signs, the replacement of glare shields (those panels atop the median walls) and the removal of vegetation and litter, she said.

Additionally, DOT has identified 12 capital projects totaling $160 million along the interstate, including bridges, ramps and the road itself. Those improvements will be ranked and scheduled once the cameras are fully operational and the level of revenue has stabilized, Cardona-Moz said.

The price of the cameras for the first six months is based on an estimate of 150,000 citations being issued per month. After six months, the city will reset the monthly camera fee, paid to vendor American Traffic Solutions, based upon the number of citations. Officials expect citations to drop as people slow down because they know the cameras are in place.

Digital speed sensors will be installed in the area, letting drivers know they are speeding, officials said.

Traffic navigates curves on the Jones Falls Expressway near Woodberry before dawn Wednesday.
Traffic navigates curves on the Jones Falls Expressway near Woodberry before dawn Wednesday. (Jerry Jackson/Baltimore Sun)

For Wendy Noyes of Baltimore, two cameras on I-83 is not nearly enough. Noyes, a Bolton Hill resident who drives on the interstate daily, said speeding drivers weaving among other cars pose the biggest hazard.

“That gives nobody a chance to respond,” she said. “Someone comes up behind you and scares you to death.”

Noyes said she felt the 90-day grace period was too long. She suggested a week.

“People don’t need warnings,” she said. “They need big fat tickets until their insurance company won’t insure them anymore.”

Jeb Brownstein, a Pikesville resident who used to drive the interstate daily but now makes trips once or twice a month, called the speed cameras a “cash grab” by the city. Brownstein said he supports speed and red-light cameras in neighborhoods with pedestrians and cyclists. But speed cameras will turn the interstate into a parking lot, he said.

“Baltimore City needs people coming into it,” Brownstein said. “They don’t need bad blood from people getting ticketed coming down 83. It’s a lose-lose.”

Brownstein called the posted speeds on I-83 unreasonably low.

“Forget about safety,” he said. “It’s not about safety.”

Crash data from the interstate in Baltimore suggests otherwise. An analysis of the roadway from 2015 to 2019 found there were more than 2,000 crashes, 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.

Ragina Ali, manager of public and government affairs for AAA Mid-Atlantic in Maryland and Washington, D.C., said AAA did not take a position on the I-83 cameras when they were considered by the General Assembly, but it supports their installation.

“We certainly recognize there are some dangerous roadways throughout the state, I-83 being one of them, that’s difficult for law enforcement to safely enforce the speed limit,” she said. “We know there have been a lot of serious and fatal collisions on that roadway.”

Ali said the interstate, like many across the state and the country, saw a spike in speeding and aggressive driving during the pandemic.

Baltimore County, for instance, saw both violations and fines rise during 2020, with some cameras issuing five and six times as many tickets as the previous year.

In Baltimore, revenue from speed cameras spiked during the pandemic. An excess $6.5 million in speed camera proceeds helped balance the Baltimore Police Department budget earlier this year.

Even as the pandemic abates and more cars are on the roads, drivers have been reluctant to slow down, city budget officials have said. As of November, a $6.9 million surplus was projected for fiscal year 2022 in speed camera revenue.

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Ideally, the presence of the cameras on Interstate 83 will slow people down, Ali said.

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“The thought is ... hopefully it will resonate with motorists,” she said. “They will get that citation in the mail and adjust their behavior. In an ideal world, eventually it should no longer be profitable. But if motorists are still driving at high speeds, they’re not getting the message. That is problematic.”

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