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D.C. to use traffic cameras to monitor problem intersections

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Local,Transportation,Liz Essley

D.C. traffic cameras will soon graduate from generating tickets for running red lights and speeding to snapping photos of drivers blocking intersections and rolling through stop signs -- even as officials debate whether to lower fines from the cameras, which can reach $250.

The Metropolitan Police Department plans to install cameras at stop signs and crosswalks before the end of the year to catch drivers disregarding stop signs, crosswalks and intersections, as well as overweight trucks on small roads and trucks too high for some tunnels and bridges. The department will place between 16 and 24 cameras of each type across the city, said Lisa Sutter, who heads the Photo Enforcement Program for the MPD.

She said the camera images will only be used to ticket those who blatantly speed through intersections or endanger pedestrians.

"We are only going to be looking at the most egregious violators to ticket, because that's the behavior we really want to modify," she said.

Sutter also said the cameras would be placed to target crosswalks known for pedestrian accidents and other dangerous areas.

"We're going to take a very clear, deliberative approach," she said.

The new cameras will come even as lawmakers and a new task force deliberate on whether to lower traffic camera fines. D.C. fines range from $75 to $250 --much higher than Maryland's $40 tickets.

Ward 6 D.C. Councilman Tommy Wells said he wants the city to study how expensive tickets really need to be to get people to stop breaking the law.

"We need to have a rationale behind [fines], otherwise there's a presumption that the size of the fine is depending on how much the District needs for their general fund," he said.

Ward 3 D.C. Councilwoman Mary Cheh said she wanted the MPD to find out whether some cameras, such as the cameras on Interstate 295 and Porter Street Northwest, qualify as "speed traps."

Wells plans to introduce a bill in the fall to lower fines.

But both lawmakers seemed convinced the cameras were working to make D.C. streets safer -- D.C. had 32 traffic fatalities in 2011, down from 72 in 2001, police data show.

lessley@washingtonexaminer.com

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