Harrisonburg looks to add speed enforcement cameras in work zones

Published: May. 24, 2023 at 5:51 PM EDT|Updated: May. 24, 2023 at 6:18 PM EDT
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HARRISONBURG, Va. (WHSV) - On Tuesday night the Harrisonburg City Council voted to approve a the creation of an ordinance allowing the use of speed enforcement cameras in work zones and school crossing zones.

The city’s Public Works Department requested the ordinance to improve safety on East Market Street where major construction is taking place.

“The ultimate goal is that we can hopefully change behavior. That’s the main thing, we want to change behavior to get vehicles and cars driving through the work zone to mind the construction speed limit of 25, understand that this an active heavy work zone area and that we need you to do the speed limit,” said Harrisonburg Public Works Director Tom Hartman.

With VDOT workers six months into a three year construction project on East Market Street near exit 247 of Interstate 81, Harrisonburg noticed a major speeding problem on the road which was confirmed by a speed study along the corridor last month.

“In April we recorded almost 22,000 vehicles going over 37 miles an hour in our 25 mile per hour work zone. We had tracked almost 600 going greater than 50 and we had 11 going greater than 60. This was during the actual daylight construction activity period,” said Hartman.

Hartman said that the Public Works Department decided that the speed photo enforcement cameras would be the best way to ensure safety in the work zone.

“We’ve worked with PD (The Harrisonburg Police Department) to have some additional enforcement but with their staffing levels it’s just not practical to have an officer out there whenever we have construction workers in the work zone to help curtail the speeding and keep it at a safe level,” said Hartman.

In March the Town of Bridgewater began using speed enforcement cameras at its school crossing zone between Turner Ashby High School and John Wayland Elementary School. Police there say that the cameras have made a big difference.

“The amount of speeding has been reduced, we’re finally getting our final numbers in but over 90 percent. The speeding has gone from over 200 a day and I think we’re averaging about 15 to 20 speeders a day,” said Bridgewater Police Chief Phillip Read.

According to the data from Bridgewater’s first month of using the cameras the school zone saw a 92% reduction in speeding vehicles with 1,095 in one week during its pre-program survey to just 86 in a week during the post-enforcement survey.

The cameras capture the rear license plate of vehicles and are only activated when they detect someone going faster than their set enforcement speed.

“Once the system is triggered it takes a picture, sends it back to our third party vendor who then reviews to make sure it was a quality picture and that the system actually picked up speeding. From there it gets sent to our police department, there it is reviewed by a law enforcement officer who then issues the citation,” said Hartman.

The cameras can help take some of the strain of off law enforcement.

“It really helps a smaller department such as Bridgewater because it’s a force multiplier. We can be elsewhere taking calls and delivering services throughout the town while still having enforcement in the school zone,” said Read.

Chief Read said that there does seem to be a lot of interest from other communities when it comes to using these kind of cameras.

“There are a lot of other agencies around the Commonwealth calling me and asking me about them, how they’re working. Everybody is curious to see is it helping and I can definitely say it’s helping the speed in that area,” he said.

Harrisonburg’s Public Works Department will begin working to coordinate the deployment of trailer mounted cameras in the work zone in the coming weeks. After council votes on the final ordinance in June the department will begin to install the cameras.