Speed cameras are about to make their first appearance on the Capital Beltway. The Maryland State Highway Administration is setting up a long-term work zone on the Beltway bridge over Northwest Branch in Silver Spring, a part of the Beltway that already is heavily congested. Drivers this week can see workers setting up the lane shifts and barriers for the bridge overhaul.
They also can see “Photo Enforced” in an orange-and-black addition to the 55 mph speed limit signs. That’s a bit premature. The state doesn’t have a start date for the enforcement program and the the signs were supposed to remain covered until an official announcement.
But the decision to add this work zone to the areas covered by cameras makes sense. The Beltway is vital to commuters, so the highway administration is planning to do the necessary rehabilitation while maintaining eight lanes of traffic at rush hours.
That means lane shifts for fast-moving traffic through a tight work zone with lots of signs, barriers and barrels. It also means that regular safety enforcement with troopers in patrol cars will be difficult and dangerous.
The highway administration hasn’t set a date for the start of camera enforcement, but when it does begin, speeding drivers caught on camera will be sent warning notices for the first three weeks. After that, the owners of vehicles photographed exceeding the 55 mph speed limit by at least 12 mph will get $40 citations.
That means they’ll have to be going at least 67 mph while following traffic shifts along narrowed lanes close to their fellow drivers and construction workers before they have to pay a minor fine.
By the time their vehicles are photographed, they will have driven past several prominent warning signs and a digital display telling them “Your Speed Is ...”
In some work zones, the speed limit is lowered, but that’s not the plan for the Northwest Branch work area, between New Hampshire Avenue and University Boulevard.
Many drivers in the D.C. area are familiar with a similar set up on Interstate 95 in the Intercounty Connector work zone. There, the speed limit is 65 mph, so a vehicle must be going at least 77 mph to draw a citation.
The enforcement zones are in effect at all hours. It doesn’t depend on whether workers are present. Work zones are potential hazards at all times, and motorists are more likely to be injured than workers.