Big month puts D.C. on pace for $119 million yearly traffic camera haul

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Local,DC,Alan Blinder,Vincent Gray,Metro and Traffic

The District is on pace to collect a record $119 million from its expanding system of speed and red-light cameras during its current budget cycle after posting $21 million in revenues gleaned from the technology last month.

According to figures from the District's chief financial officer, the city collected $21.3 million in automated enforcement fines in February. That's down from January -- when it took in just shy of $26 million -- but up by $3.9 million from February 2012.

The city's February haul brought its total collections from its camera system during the fiscal year, which began in October, to $49.5 million. That's up from about $20 million at the same time a year ago.

The 2012 fiscal cycle was ultimately record-breaking for the District's cameras, which were responsible for $85 million in collected fines.

But if the city maintains its current pace -- $9.9 million a month -- it will easily surpass last fiscal year's revenue by about 40 percent and take in $118.9 million.

John Townsend, a spokesman for AAA Mid-Atlantic, charged that the District was becoming dependent on the extra cash, even though it posted a surplus last year far greater than its ticket income.

"Tickets have become the mother's milk of additional revenue for the city," Townsend said. "The city is addicted to it."

Other traffic fines in the District, though, have fallen in recent months.

Through the fiscal year's first five months, the District collected $27.9 million in traffic fines that weren't camera-based, a 22 percent decrease.

Mayor Vincent Gray's administration is implementing an expansion of the camera program and plans to more than double the number of devices in operation by the end of the year.SClBAnd there's a chance Gray could seek additional cameras when he submits his budget for next year later this month. His spokesman declined to say whether the mayor would make such a request because Gray is still developing his proposal.

But Gray and his aides have regularly defended the growth of the system, saying they helped spur a decline in traffic deaths in the District last year.

"They save lives because people slow down, and the reason people slow down is they don't want to pay the penalty," Deputy Mayor for Public Safety and Justice Paul Quander Jr. said last year. "If ever there was a model for a public policy event that has changed behavior for the betterment of overall society, this is it."

But Townsend predicted the devices would eventually limit the District's attractiveness to visitors and questioned whether they were effective.

"When you have Draconian enforcement, you're literally building a moat around the city with alligators and crocodiles in it," he said. "If the goal of the program is to reduce the number of infractions, then why are they skyrocketing every year?"

ablinder@washingtonexaminer.com

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