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Transportationby Mark Reutter4:35 pmNov 24, 20210

Speed cameras coming to the Jones Falls Expressway

Posted speeds are low – and actual speeds are often “ridiculously high” – on a roadway used by tens of thousands to commute in and out of Baltimore

Above: Jones Falls Expressway looking south toward downtown. (flickr.com)

After a test camera recorded motorists traveling up to 173 mph, the Baltimore Board of Estimates has decided that the Jones Falls Expressway should no longer serve as a local Indianapolis Speedway.

It’s trying to slow the traffic’s roll by installing speed cameras to enforce the 50 mph limit amid the highway’s many twists and turns.

The current contract with American Traffic Solutions, which started at $5.4 million in 2017 and has since increased to $26.5 million as more cameras were installed around the city, was hiked another $6.6 million today to accommodate the cameras on the JFX and to perform other maintenance work through August 2023.

Two enforcement cameras, one covering the southbound lanes and the other the northbound, would record speeds and issue fines, while four other cameras would flash to motorists their speeds as a warning.

The Scott administration couched the cameras as a public safety measure and a way to relieve police from handling the steady parade of crashes and overturned vehicles on the popular route for commuters between Baltimore County and downtown.

According to DOT Director Steve Sharkey, there were 30 serious or fatal accidents on the roadway over a five-year period.

Mosby: Transparency Missing

Council President Nick Mosby voted against the measure, saying it was not handled “in a transparent way” and should have been bid out rather than given to the existing vendor.

Three months ago when the board increased the contract by $7 million, it was implied that the expected JFX cameras would be open to competitive bidding, Mosby pointed out.

After Sharkey said the bidding process would take 18 months to complete, Mayor Brandon Scott interjected.

“To me what’s critically important is that we get 83 safer as fast as humanly possible.” he said.

Controlling three of the five board votes, Scott carried the day. Comptroller Bill Henry also voted in favor of the amended contract and price increase.

Up to $20 Million

Adrea Turner, DOT chief of staff, said that during a seven-day trial period with cameras installed near the former Pepsi sign in Hampden during daylight hours, the speed of 360,000 vehicles was measured.

Some 151,000 vehicles, or 42%, exceeded the posted speed limit by 12 mph or more. Of those, 102,000, or 28%, exceeded the limit by 15 mph or more.

“It was determined people speed a whole ton on 83, including some ridiculously high speed numbers,” Sharkey said. Unstated today was the drag racing that takes place nearly every Sunday night on the expressway.

What about the drag racing that takes place nearly every Sunday night on the JFX?

According to Sharkey, the city expects to net between $15 and $20 million in yearly income based on a potential of 150,000 citations issued per month.

(At $40 a ticket, total revenues could initially amount to some $72 million a year, which would be shared with the vendor and include administrative costs at DOT and the police department, which certifies the tickets.)

Revenues are expected to decline once motorists get slapped with fines. The income would be used to upgrade highway safety and related expenses, Sharkey promised.

Once the cameras are installed – now expected on and around February 1 – motorists will have a 90-day grace period where they only receive a warning if they are caught speeding.

After that, speeders will be issued the $40 citation.

Earlier this year, the General Assembly authorized the city to install speed cameras along the 10-mile stretch within its borders between Fayette Street and the county line.

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