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Conn. Work Zone Cameras Seem Necessary but Draw Criticism

To make freeways safer for road workers, Connecticut is installing work zone cameras as part of a pilot program next year. Critics have raised privacy concerns, and others have claimed the program is a money scheme.

Road work ahead sign
(TNS) — Elias Khoury has been working for the state Department of Transportation for nearly a decade and the highway maintenance worker says speeding motorists have made his job less safe over the years.

"Drivers are going faster and faster," said Khoury, a unionized worker who pointed out that many DOT employees have experienced "close calls" as they perform highway maintenance, clear debris from the road, and repair guardrails, among other tasks.

"They knock cones over, that's how close they come to us," he said.

With distracted driving and speeding a common occurrence on Connecticut's roadways, the state will install specialized cameras in work zones next year in an effort to slow down drivers.

The pilot program, which is expected to start as soon as next summer, has also faced opposition with some saying it raises privacy concerns and is meant as a revenue generator as opposed to an effort to increase highway safety.

The program will involve placing three movable speed detectors in work zones in different regions of the state. The cameras will be used to capture the license plate number of any vehicle traveling 15 mph or more over the speed limit in a work zone.

A driver will get a warning for a first violation. A second violation will result in a $75 fine and a third infraction will result in a $150 fine. Tickets will be mailed to the registered owner of the vehicle. The infractions will not go against a driver's insurance, according to state officials.

Any fines collected will go into the Special Transportation Fund, which finances the state's transportation system, including the operating costs of the Department of Transportation and the Department of Motor Vehicles.

From Jan. 1 until Sept. 11, there were 576 crashes in work zones, resulting in three people being killed and four others seriously injured, according to preliminary data from the DOT. The data does not include statistics from the Hartford and New Haven police departments due to issues transmitting the information to DOT.

Several states, including Pennsylvania, Washington, Illinois and Maryland, have launched similar programs. The Connecticut proposal came up during the General Assembly's 2021 legislative session, but did not pass a standalone bill. Instead, it was included in the so-called budget implementer bill, a massive document that does not receive the same level of oversight as individual pieces of legislation.

In testimony on the bill earlier this year, the Connecticut State Police Union, which opposed the plan, called the speed enforcement cameras "unreliable" and said state troopers should be used to protect motorists and highway workers.

"When a speeding motorist travels through a work zone, a speed camera cannot initiate a motor vehicle stop to eliminate a dangerous and reckless operator from our roadways," Executive Director Andrew Matthews testified.

Raising another concern, Matthews said the operator of the vehicle could differ from the registered owner of the vehicle — a potential discrepancy that cameras could not detect.

"If the speed camera only captures an image of the vehicle license plate, how would the identity of the operator be verified?" he asked.

Carl Chisem, president of Connecticut Employees Union Independent, SEIU Local 511, pushed back on claims that the program is a cash grab and refuted accusations that it's meant to replace state troopers.

The union represents over 3,600 state workers, including about 1,500 transportation maintainers employed by DOT.

"To me, if this generates zero dollars, that means the program is doing its job because all we want is awareness," Chisem said. "It's not a gotcha type of program in my eyes."

"If they want to put troopers out there in the zones, that's fine with me," Chisem added.

©2021 Connecticut Post, Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.
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