Hopewell's 'Million Dollar Mile' raises huge fine money, controversy
The stretch of I-295 through the city of Hopewell, Va., about 20 miles south of Richmond, only comprises about a mile or two, depending on how you look at it.
What it lacks in length, though, the stretch of highway dubbed the "Million Dollar Mile" is more than made up for in the amount of revenue it generates in fines and citations from the Hopewell Sheriff's Office. The city's sheriff, Greg Anderson, a 63-year-old Vietnam veteran, really hates speeders.
"Don't drive 81 miles per hour or higher in this city, or you are going to get a ticket," Anderson said.
In 2007, Anderson took the small officer, which typically handled court security and civil process papers, and added a dozen deputies to the force. His sole focus has been to ticket speeders on I-295, the highway that bypasses Virginia's capital to the east.
The plan has worked. Since implementation began in September of 2007, the force has collected more than $3.66 million in fines. It peaked in 2011, when the office collected more than $1.6 million from speeders.
What's more remarkable is that a full 72.24 percent of those ticketed since 2007 are from out-of-state. The number of people who reside in Hopewell who are tickets is even smaller.
Needless to say, Anderson and his office's tactics have drawn the ire of advocates and legislators from across the region.
"This is law enforcement happening only to improve the coffers of Hopewell," AAA Mid-Atlantic spokesman Lon Anderson said.
Rick Newman, the Commonwealth's Attorney for Hopewell, supports the idea of cracking down on speeders on I-295, but he wants some of that money to go back toward public safety.
"Bottom line, it's all about the dollars," Newman said. "It's a cash cow, and they're using it as a cottage industry as far as I'm concerned."
Anderson is quick to disagree with that notion, pointing out that thousands of citations for drivers going more than 90 miles per hour on a stretch of road with a speed limit of 70 have been written since enforcement began.
"I believe we've saved many lives out there," he said. "I believe we continue to do that, and yes, money comes into the city."
Virginia State Police officials refused to address reports that it opposes Hopewell's deputies being on I-295. Legislators, though, are more outspoken about the topic, especially when it comes to the millions the city is bringing in. They even managed to attach an amendment to the state budget to grab some of the cash.
That's not slowing Anderson and his deputies down. They still plan to keep scaring speeders into slowing down.
"There's very little I'm afraid of," he said. "I'm afraid of my wife, my mother and my mother-in-law, but other than that, these guys don't scare me one bit.'