Leslie Richards speed cameras

Transportation Secretary Leslie Richards speaks at a press conference announcing the launch of a new program to use speed cameras to encourage motorists to slow down in work zones. 

HARRISBURG — The state plans to start using speed cameras to get motorists to slow done in work zones.

The Department of Transportation and the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission are beginning a 60-day pre-enforcement period beginning next week in which the cameras will be set up but motorists won’t get tickets if they are caught on camera exceeding the speed limit, said Transportation Secretary Leslie Richards.

The cameras were approved under Act 86 of 2018. Enforcement will begin in early 2020, Richards said.

Richards said that the cameras will initially be placed in work zones on interstate highways, the turnpike and other limited-access roads.

Motorists will only be ticketed if they exceed the speed limit by 11 miles-per-hour and there are workers present, she said. Motorists will get a warning letter after their first offense, a $75 ticket on the second offense and a $150 ticket for each subsequent offense, she said.

The Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission awarded a five-year contract with an “estimated overall value of $30 million,” to Redflex Traffic Systems, based in Arizona, to operate the camera systems used for the automated speed enforcement, said Carl DeFebo, a Turnpike Commission spokesman.

The state will roll out two mobile camera systems, initially, with plans to add 15 next year as the speed enforcement ramps up statewide, he said. Richards was appointed in 2015, and she said that she’d lobbied for the right to use speed cameras as soon as she took the job.

In 2018, there were 1,804 work zone crashes in Pennsylvania, resulting in 23 fatalities, and 43 percent of work zone crashes resulted in fatalities and/or injuries.

“Most of those killed were the drivers,” Richards said. “The Automated Work Zone Speed Enforcement program isn’t about issuing violations, it’s about saving lives.”

State Rep. Mike Carroll of Luzerne County, the Democratic chair of the House Transportation Committee, said that data from the use of speed cameras in Maryland shows that motorists quickly adjust their behavior once speed cameras are put in place.

When the cameras were first put in place in Maryland, 7 percent of motorists were caught speeding. Since then, that violation rate has dropped to 1 percent of those driving through zones covered by the cameras, he said.

“People in Maryland learned quickly,” Carroll said. “I think people in Pennsylvania are as smart as people in Maryland.”

An analysis by AAA concluded, though, found that the number of tickets being issued by the Maryland speed cameras increased in 2018 compared to the prior year.

The AAA found that 1.5 million seeding motorists paid $64 million in fines after being caught by speed cameras in Maryland in 2018. A year earlier, 1.2 million speeders paid $62 million, the group found.

DeFebo said that in Pennsylvania, the fine revenue will be used to cover the cost of the contract with Redflex. State officials don’t believe that the fine revenue will cover the full cost of the contract, he said. Both the Department of Transportation and the Turnpike Commission are preparing to spend supplemental funds to cover the shortfall between what the fine revenue generates and the full cost of that contract, DeFebo said.

John Finnerty reports from the Harrisburg Bureau for The Meadville Tribune and other Pennsylvania newspapers owned by CNHI. Email him at jfinnerty@cnhi.com and follow him on Twitter @cnhipa.

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