Maintenance issues blamed for $38 million drop in D.C. traffic camera revenue

D.C. traffic camera. (WJLA file photo)

WASHINGTON (WJLA) - The D.C. Government is facing a big budget shortfall – thanks, in part, to malfunctioning traffic cameras. Revenue from the cameras dropped by about $40 million last year.

The issue is now re-energizing the debate about the program's true goal – safety or money.

At first, D.C. leaders said the District's traffic camera program was issuing fewer tickets and collecting substantially less revenue because drivers were slowing down.

But now, D.C. police acknowledge camera maintenance issues.

"During periods of extreme cold and snow last winter, there were instances when we could not change the batteries because they were not accessible, or the temperature affected the charge,” said Asst. Chief Lamar D. Greene.

Some drivers were upset to learn about the camera problems.

“Knowing that some people have gotten a pass, that's a bit bothersome,” said Shayla Moon.

Many pedestrians expressed concern about what malfunctioning traffic cameras could mean for their safety.

“Especially when people know specifically which lights aren't working,” said Jenna Shaffer. “It makes it extra dangerous, especially around an intersection that's this busy.”

Police officials said the problems have since been corrected.

They also argue that safer driving was still a factor in 2014, with a 10-percent drop in traffic fatalities.

Still, Council Chairman Phil Mendelson said camera maintenance was not kept up by the police department.

“An in addition, there was supposed to be an expansion of the program buying new equipment and that didn't happen as well,” said Mendelson.

According to the office of D.C.’s chief financial officer, in fiscal year 2012, the program generated $85 million in revenue. In 2013, it resulted in a little less revenue: $74 million. Then in 2014, the numbers dropped by about half with a little more than $30 million generated.

Some drivers said they were happy to hear about the program's problems.

Hector Figueroa said, “I hope they lose money and continue to lose money and then start using the money [from] somewhere else.”

But long-time critics of the program are less gleeful. They said this budget gap is exactly why D.C. lawmakers never should have relied on traffic camera revenue in their annual budgets.

AAA Mid-Atlantic Public and Government Affairs Manager John B. Townsend said, “It was almost like they were crack addicts addicted to this camera revenue and now they have to cut the budget. It should never be this way. This should be about camera safety and not about revenue.”

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