Speed Cameras to Be Upgraded on Conn. Ave.

By Andrew Ujifusa
Gazette Staff Writer
Thursday, February 19, 2009

Chevy Chase Village is preparing to upgrade its four speed cameras to better capture violators on Connecticut Avenue as part of a new contract to pay a flat monthly fee to the cameras' vendor.

Under its agreement with ACS State and Local Solutions, the village's two portable and two fixed-pole cameras will be upgraded from radar to laser technology to better capture photos of vehicles going faster than the 30 mph limit. The upgrade should also allow the two portable cameras, which currently operate only during the day, to function 24 hours a day.

All four cameras also will be upgraded from two megapixels to four, yielding clearer pictures of vehicle tags and allowing more citations to be issued. The changes are scheduled to be in place by May 9.

"We're going to get better reliability, better technology," Village Manager Geoffrey Biddle said.

The village also will pay a $37,000 flat monthly fee per camera, or $148,000 a month for all four. The cost of the camera upgrades is included in the flat fee.

In the current arrangement, the village pays a $16.25 fee per $40 speeding ticket to ACS. Over the past year, Biddle said, that resulted in the town paying an average of $154,000 a month in fees to ACS.

The Village Board of Managers approved the two-year contract 6 to 0 at its Feb. 9 meeting, with board Vice Chairman David Winstead abstaining. The contract goes into effect March 12. The village has the option to revisit the terms of the contract after 12 months.

Biddle and the Board of Managers said they hoped the switch to flat fees would quiet criticism that the per-ticket fee structure violated a provision of the 2006 state law governing the pilot speed-camera program in Montgomery County. That provision said fees should not be based on the number of tickets issued.

"This is the first time that anybody's planted a flag and said, 'This is the flat rate we're going to charge, this is the flat rate we're going to pay,' " said Biddle, referring to other speed-camera programs operated by the county, Gaithersburg and Rockville.

AAA Mid-Atlantic spokesman Lon Anderson said he was pleased that the village "sounds like it's coming into compliance with the law, at least as far as the current law's intent."

Anderson, who had criticized the village's per-ticket fee structure as well as the cameras' location along Connecticut Avenue, said he was pleased with the technology upgrades to the cameras. But he also said the law did not envision cameras being used on arteries such as Connecticut Avenue.

"I continue to believe their cameras on Connecticut Avenue . . . are in violation of the law," he said, noting that the statute contemplated enforcement on residential streets or in school zones.

Revenue from the cameras declined during the past year. In November, the town received $304,800 in gross revenue from the cameras, according to village statistics. But Biddle said the revenue is likely to increase because of the improved picture quality and the portable cameras' longer operating hours.

The cameras take thousands of pictures each day. But like revenue, that figure declined from the fourth quarter of 2007 to the same period last year. Not every picture taken by the cameras results in a citation.

Winstead questioned why a similar speed camera program in Cleveland cost only $11,000 a month per camera in flat fees. Biddle responded that the greater volume the Chevy Chase cameras handle increases the cost for the vendor.

The Maryland House of Delegates is considering a bill that would expand Montgomery's speed-camera program to state highways and other counties.

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