By Andrew Staub
For The Pennsylvania Independent
HARRISBURG PA – State lawmakers feel a need, a need to see you speed.
They’re exploring a five-year pilot program that would place speed cameras in active interstate work zones, saying it will improve safety as a $2.3 billion transportation funding law puts more construction crews on the highway at a time when drivers have more technology than ever to distract them.
State Sen. David Argall, a Republican backing the speed-camera bill, said 24 people died during 2014 in work-zone crashes. More than 30 Pennsylvania Turnpike employees have died while performing their duties since 1940, with many incidents occurring in work zones, said Mark Compton, chief executive officer of the Turnpike Commission. Recently, four workers were injured and a driver was killed in a May 2 crash in Bucks County.
“We need more help out there. We need more tools, and we need more protection than their hard hats and their vests,” Compton said.
At least one critic of the plan — James Sikorski Jr., a Luzerne County resident and Pennsylvania member of the National Motorists Association — alleges it’s part of a bigger, anti-driver agenda emanating from Harrisburg.
The move comes while the state is already examining extending the life of its red-light camera program and again considering giving local police permission to use radar to nab speeders. Lawmakers are also considering cameras for school bus stop-arms, to catch drivers who blow by as children try to cross the road. They also may look at legislation to make the use of a handheld device while driving a secondary offense punishable by a fine.
The National Motorists Association has opposed speed cameras, arguing they can generate false readings and emphasize ticket volumes. Adding speed cameras to highway construction zones could be a cash cow, and it won’t immediately stop reckless driving, Sikorski said.
“What good does it do sending a ticket a few weeks later?” Sikorski asked. “If a person is dangerous, I want him stopped now, and I want him to get a lot of points on his license. Cameras do not do this.”
They would rack up the citations, which supporters say would make drivers think twice about speeding through narrow cattle chutes in highway work zones.
Using such automated technology, Maryland issued 26,000 speeding citations in just a month, said Joseph Kovel, president of the Pennsylvania State Troopers Association, the union representing state police. Arizona quietly powered down its speed-camera program after issuing more than a million tickets in two years, he said, expressing a need for caution.
“So if the goal is to raise revenue, there’s little doubt that an automated speed enforcement program will do it,” Kovel said. “It will be more efficient at raising revenue within construction zones than what state troopers are.”
But unlike state troopers, who also deter speeding, a camera could not respond to crashes and help keep traffic moving, Kovel said. It also can’t keep watch for motorists driving under the influence or other dangers.
Any revenue raised should be used to help put state troopers into work zones where there are no protective barriers for construction crews, Kovel lobbied.
Revenue would be used exclusively to fund work-zone safety measures, and the program is designed to supplement, not replace, state troopers’ presence on highways, Argall said.
The speed cameras would be active only when a work zone is active, Argall said, and motorists would receive advance warning of the cameras. Other states with similar programs have found they slow traffic, and Pennsylvania has a duty to protect workers, the senator said.
That was the mantra of others who lined up to support the speed cameras and the other traffic-related programs during a long, but one-sided joint hearing of the Senate and House transportation committees Tuesday (July 14, 2015).
Speed cameras would help outnumbered state troopers who can’t watch over every work zone, said Michael Hawbaker, executive vice president of Glenn O. Hawbaker, Inc., a heavy-construction firm. That would be a win for workers, he said.
“I don’t think there’s anybody that would deny the right for anybody to head home at night to their family,” he said.
- Pennsylvania Independent is a public interest journalism project dedicated to promoting open, transparent, and accountable state government. It reports on the activities of agencies, bureaucracies, and politicians in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.
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