A year after their approval, what’s the verdict on speed cameras?

Richard Buckingham sits in Harrisonburg’s general district court to contend a $100 speeding ticket he received in the mail last fall — one of nearly 7,000 issued just in the month of September.

“I just thought it was exorbitant,” he said of the fine. 

Since the implementation of two speed cameras in the East Market Street construction zone, between 3,000 and 7,000 speeding tickets have been issued each month from September 2023 to February 2024, according to a speed camera update presented at the April 23 Harrisonburg City Council. People in Harrisonburg, like Buckingham, have conflicting opinions about the cameras, which will be in place for the three years that the stretch of road over I-81 will be under construction.  

While the city council approved speed cameras in construction and school zones last May, city leaders have no immediate plans to install other speed cameras beyond the East Market Street corridor, Parks said. However, he added that the city has the ability to do so through that Ordinance.

“The speed cameras are a common occurrence, but not here,” Parks said. “We knew we needed to do something to protect the crews working in this work zone [and] protect drivers driving through this work zone, so we took the steps to do this and we’ve been working hard to make sure that it’s done correctly.”

Between 3,000 and 7,000 speeding tickets from the East Market Street cameras have been issued monthly between September 2023 and February 2024. Screengrab of the speed camera update presentation from the Harrisonburg City Council meeting on April 23.

Buckingham recently moved to Harrisonburg from Washington, D.C., in August — a month before the city began issuing $100 speeding fines from the East Market Street speed cameras. He said it’s typical for people in urban areas, such as D.C., to be fined such a “high” amount for speeding, but added that this is not as typical in “rural Virginia.”

According to section § 46.2-882.1 in the code of Virginia, a photo citation from a work zone, such as the one on East Market Street, cannot cost more than $100. 

Mike Parks, the city’s director of communications, wrote in an email that city officials chose to fine speeding vehicles the maximum amount because of the importance “that these citations work as intended,” adding that the high fine works as a “mechanism to encourage drivers to follow the posted speed limit.”

Having been issued two of these speeding tickets in September, Buckingham decided to contest the charge in court. While watching other trials in anticipation for his name to be called, Buckingham said the judge denied “every single person that’s come in front of him” the chance to dismiss a speeding ticket.

“They all got shut down,” he said. “Somebody’s making money — who’s making it?”

Buckingham called the speed cameras a “fumble money grab.”

Parks said 22,417 speeding tickets from the East Market Street construction zone have been paid as of March, which has produced a total of $2.2 million. The city kept $1.5 million of the revenue, while the company that owns the cameras got the rest.

Altumint — a Maryland-based “photo enforcement safety tracking company” as CEO Holly Cooper described it — owns both speed cameras on East Market Street. 

In her presentation at the April 23 council meeting, Cooper said the city pays a monthly rate of $3,499 per camera, including the processing charges for the first 500 tickets, she said.

After the first 500 tickets have been issued, Cooper said Altumint charges $12 per ticket to go toward DMV registration lookup and shipment services. 

“[Altumint has] been very receptive and very responsive whenever we’ve reached out to them with things that we would like to change, or things that need to be improved,” Parks said. “Even with some of the issues that we encountered very early on in this program, as soon as we brought those to their attention, they worked with us to get them addressed.”

Thousands of people received warning letters over the summer for speeding through the East Market Street construction zone. (File photo)

Despite the $100 cost, Suanne Scrogham of Harrisonburg said speed tracking is necessary for the safety of construction workers, adding that there’s not another feasible alternative to limit the speed of cars than to use speed cameras.

Scrogham, who formerly lived in Augusta County, said moving to a more densely populated area was “an adjustment” for her, but that she enjoys being able to walk to things rather than drive.

While driving through the East Market Street construction zone, Scrogham said construction workers were incredibly close to the road — something that could potentially be a danger with speeding vehicles. 

Scrogham also said the “confusing” new traffic pattern could affect drivers, which she believes should be an indicator for drivers to “slow down anyway.” In her words, “if you’re speeding, you get the ticket.”

Although Parks said city officials believe the speed cameras are having “the desired effect” by slowing down vehicles, he also said there’s more room for improvement in terms of drivers slowing down in this area.

Harrisonburg Police Chief Kelley Warner said during the April 23 council meeting that she believes implementing speed cameras have been “worth the effort.” 

“I think this has probably been one of the biggest undertakings, and I know it was a big culture shock for our community,” Warner said. “But I do think it has definitely paid off to keep us safe.”

The number of speeding vehicles to which speed cameras issued a citation, according to the city’s April 23 presentation, dropped by nearly 11% in a 30-day period earlier this year — an indication that drivers are slowing down.
The total number of speeding vehicles has dropped from 13% in the first 30 days of enforcement to 2.02% in the last 30 days of September during enforcement times. Screengrab of presentation from the Harrisonburg City Council meeting on April 23.

Another reason why Scrogham said she understands the need for the cameras is because there’s no safe place for police to park when monitoring the speed of vehicles. She said the East Market Street speeding tickets do not appear on any drivers’ records, which is another benefit of using the cameras. 

City officials also touted that as a perk for drivers. 

“Nobody likes getting tickets,” Parks said. “Luckily, this is a $100 citation as opposed to the much more expensive ticket and the points on your license you would get if this was an officer pulling you over.”

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