Anger mounts over new Forest Heights speed cameras
Residents, businesses question Forest Heights' policies
It was after receiving his third speeding ticket in one day that John McHale began to get suspicious about two newly installed speed cameras along Indian Head Highway/Route 210 in Forest Heights.
McHale, who manages Eastover Auto Supply in Oxon Hill, said that within a month of the cameras being installed, drivers in seven of the company's vehicles racked up more than $400 in speeding tickets.
"We got clobbered," he said. "We got two to three tickets a day."
McHale and some other business owners and residents in the area say they are frustrated the town ignored recommendations although not mandates by the Maryland State Highway Administration not to install the cameras on a hill or near traffic signals, highway ramps or speed-transition zones, as the two cameras are.
But town officials said they followed all SHA-required guidelines when installing the cameras this spring, including creating a school zone on both sides of the highway and spending $10,000 on a feasibility study that determined the 210 location as adequate because of high traffic volume.
Mayor Andrea McCutcheon said a majority of the 60,000 vehicles that drive along the section of the highway, which bisects the town, are traveling faster than the 35 mph speed limit, with at least 11 percent of drivers traveling more than 20 mph over the limit, according to a study the town conducted in January. The town had been looking for ways to reduce speeding along the highway as part of its Get Home Safe initiative.
"The people are driving too fast," McCutcheon said. "You have pedestrians who run across the highway."
Signage along the highway stretch posts speeds as 35 mph leading toward the cameras, and 40 mph just south of them. Drivers traveling 47 mph or faster are ticketed $40.
The town is projected to earn about $500,000 from ticket revenues, about 10 percent of its budget. McCutcheon said the revenues can only be spent on public safety, and she hopes to hire a crossing guard for the intersection closest to the camera. The revenues will not be used to fill deficits in the town's fiscal 2011 budget, she said.
"[The cameras] are not a money-making feature," she said adding that cameras will act as a deterrent to speeding.
Still, drivers who frequent the highway said they question town officials' motive.
The cameras were originally placed near a back street in the town during the 30-day grace period that began March 1 before being moved along the highway, leaving some to wonder why the town decided to use the grace period on a less traveled road.
"They blindsided everybody [when the cameras were moved]," McHale said. "If they would have properly wanted to warn the public, they would have put [the cameras] on the street that gets the most traffic."
Oxon Hill residents James Carrington, 68, and Ruth Carrington, 63, were left scratching their heads after James received a ticket earlier this month for speeding past the camera. Ruth Carrington said her husband was traveling at 47 mph not far from a sign that listed the speed limit at 40 mph.
"That sign says 40 mph, not 35," she said. "A lot of people are saying that the camera is illegal. I think it's a way for Forest Heights to get more money, not a deterrent for speeding."
In August, the town created a half-mile school zone along its portion of 210, a requirement to install the cameras, although neither of the town's two elementary schools is along the highway.
Ruth said the speed ticket listed the section of the highway as a school zone but didn't understand how it could be when that section of the highway is not close to crosswalks, has limited egress, no schools in the immediate area, and leads to a ramp for the Capital Beltway.
"There's nothing dangerous about [that stretch of highway]," she said. "There are no kids coming across the highway. It's going up a hill nobody crosses."