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Regulations Put Brakes on Cameras

A red-light camera at Chain Bridge Road and Lee Highway in March 2005, before the legislature ended the trial program.
A red-light camera at Chain Bridge Road and Lee Highway in March 2005, before the legislature ended the trial program. (By Larry Morris -- The Washington Post)
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By Daniela Deane
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, June 5, 2008

A year ago, Northern Virginia motorists were widely warned: Red-light cameras are coming back, and probably by the summer. Well, they didn't, they still haven't and they probably won't for a while.

More than 14 months after they were approved in Richmond, no Virginia jurisdiction has installed -- or reinstalled -- cameras to snap pictures of people running red lights at key intersections.

Gov. Timothy M. Kaine (D) signed a bill in March 2007 allowing jurisdictions with populations of 10,000 or more to install the cameras starting July 1 of last year. But the legislation also directed the Virginia Department of Transportation to oversee the installation of the cameras, and local officials said that process has slowed installation.

"Ever since the legislature reinstated that authority, localities have been trying to address the hurdles put into the re-authorization," Fairfax City Manager Robert L. Sisson said. "We've been trying to meet the regulations put in place. Some of them were not well defined or easily attained."

At a minimum, Fairfax City wants to install the nine cameras it had on the streets before the General Assembly decided in 2005 not to renew the trial program. Under the new legislation, the city is allowed 10 red-light cameras, said Alex Verzosa, the city's director of transportation.

Arlington County hopes to install eight to 10 cameras the first year and five or six after that, said police Capt. Paul Larson, manager of the county's red-light camera project.

Alexandria, Falls Church, Fairfax City and Arlington indicated last year that they would be among the first governments to start the cameras rolling again. Fairfax, Prince William and Loudoun counties also said they were heading in the same direction.

Sisson said VDOT was given "a significant new role" in approving camera programs, including deciding where the devices could be placed. Previously, localities could implement their programs without VDOT approval.

"The code has changed pretty drastically from the previous systems," Larson said. "It's not just a matter of turning the old cameras on."

Mike Salmon, a spokesman for VDOT, said the state agency was put in charge of approvals because lawmakers "didn't want the possibility of anyone using [the cameras] as a moneymaker."

Salmon said VDOT needed to come up with a template to qualify the intersections, which took time. Since it devised the template, though, the agency has not received any applications, he said.

"Some have hinted that they're not applying because of financial reasons," Salmon said. "Everyone's in a money crunch."

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