“The top two most productive speed cameras in the region are located along major commuter routes in the nation’s capital. Yet Olney only has a fraction –3.5 percent of Montgomery County’s population,” said John B. Townsend II, spokesman for AAA-Mid Atlantic.
Olney, an unincorporated community about 20 miles north of the District, boasts 33,844 residents, according to the U.S. Census.
The so-dubbed Saint Peter’s speed camera along Maryland Route 108 produced $1.1 million in revenue in fiscal year 2014, after doling out 20 percent more citations than Bethesda’s 10 speed cameras combined the year before, the Greater Olney Civic Association’s Traffic Cameras Task Force found, according to a report released Tuesday morning. And it was responsible for more than two-and-a-half times as many tickets as Montgomery Village’s 13 cameras combined, the report said.
The civic association’s board is expected to consider the task force’s findings at its July 14 meeting.
Montgomery County Police defended the speed camera program, calling the report “politically motivated” and “misleading.” The camera is not a speed trap, said Capt. Tom Didone, director of the Montgomery County traffic division, adding that drivers should simply slow down in the 30 mph zone.
“Long story short is, the Olney community has an issue with speeding,” he said. “And I think the report has very much validated that fact.”
Violators in Olney are issued $40 citations if they exceed the speed limit by 12 mph, compared to fines ranging from $100 to $300 for speed camera violations in Washington.
Didone disputed AAA’s statement in a news release that the speed limit was lowered by 10 mph – to 30 mph — prior to the cameras’ installation in 2013. The speed limit may have been lowered, he said, but county policy strictly prohibits lowering speed limits 6 months prior to the installation of speed cameras. The speed limit was lowered for safety reasons, he said, not revenue-motivated ones.
AAA officials expressed concern that a small Maryland town, a place that bills itself as the “last suburban outpost in upper northeast Montgomery County” is penalizing drivers unnecessarily through a program that lacks transparency.
“Is it local residents or commuters who’s getting the tickets? Why are there so many tickets?” said Townsend. “When there’s 27,000 tickets for a small community that’s a whistlestop community, that’s an inordinate amount of tickets.”
The Olney-Sandy Spring area has 13 speed cameras, according to the task force report, a concentration rate that exceeds the average for such a location by 5.7 times. Drivers in the same area are 3.4 times more likely to be tracked by a speed camera than anywhere else in the county, it adds.
Townsend said he hopes to receive answers in the coming days and weeks, as the report’s findings are presented to Olney officials. Didone, the police captain, says the camera on Route 108 is here to stay.
“The bottom line is people aren’t responding and slowing down,” Didone said. “There’s a speeding problem in Olney and these cameras will work over time — but it does take time.”