Tug-of-war plays out over speed camera bill

HARRISBURG — More than 20 pages of crossed out text characterize a bill that’s been going back and forth between the two houses of General Assembly.

Senate Bill 172, which would place speed cameras in active work zones, saw a number of changes during June.

PennDOT statistics indicated 1,935 crashes in work zones, including 23 deaths, in 2015 and 2,075 work-zone crashes with 16 deaths in 2016.

The data, showing “terrible tragedy that we see all too often,” prompted the bill, said the bill’s prime sponsor, Sen. David Argall, R-Schuylkill.

The Senate sent the bill to the House where it was amended, but then the Senate revised it again, meaning the House must review it once more.

The bill could next see action in September, when the Legislature returns from its summer break.

SB172 seeks to create an automated speed enforcement system for highway work zones as part of a five-year pilot program. With a speed timing device, the electronic traffic sensor automatically detects vehicles exceeding the posted speed limit. As a result, the system records an image of the license plate, the location of the work zone and the date and time of the incident.

Suggesting a separate pilot program in Philadelphia, the House added Roosevelt Boulevard between Ninth Street and the Philadelphia County line as well as Henry Avenue between Hunting Park Avenue and Port Royal Avenue.

However, the Senate only kept Roosevelt Boulevard in the bill.

House Transportation Com­mittee Chairman John Taylor,

R-Philadelphia, added the content for the Roosevelt Boulevard pilot program.

Not having that area in the legislation would have been a deal breaker for Taylor because, according to House GOP spokesman Steve Miskin, people are dying on that road.

Miskin said the House Speaker Mike Turzai, who decides what comes up for a vote, is on board with the bill.

Bill co-sponsor Sen. Judith Schwank, D-Berks, “thought that” the most recent changes made were agreed upon by both the House and Senate, yet time ran out to consider the changes.

The Senate passed the amended version on the last session day of June 22.

She said agreements were made about where revenue would go and who would have oversight of the program. The Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission estimates the five-year pilot program could produce net revenue of $45.3 million from just the PennDOT and PTC portion of SB172.

According to Schwank’s office, in the first three years, after paying administrative costs, fines from the program would be disbursed with 45 percent going to the Pennsylvania State Police, 40 percent to the Motor License Fund distributed by the General Assembly and 15 percent for PennDOT and the PTC for work zone safety initiatives.

In years four and five, 100 percent goes to PennDOT and the PTC for highway safety initiatives and transportation enhancements.

In all cases, state police troopers will certify the issuance of citations.

Despite the back and forth, Schwank said she is hopeful that when the Legislature returns to session, they’ll finally be able to move forward on it. The only barrier she foresees is the fact that legislators are “reluctant to make a change that might impact constituents’ pocket book,” meaning the fine associated with exceeding the posted speed.

Argall added his hopefulness, noting the overwhelming backing of the bill, continued support from PennDOT and program data from other states. Maryland reported a reduction in drivers exceeding the speed limit in work zones, according to the Pennsylvania State Transportation Advisory Committee.

“I think everyone agrees on the basic premise that we need to do what we can to increase the safety, not just for workers in these safe zones, but for the traveling public,” Argall said.

The proposed legislation defines an active work zone as where construction, maintenance or utility workers are on the road or shoulder and are adjacent to an active travel lane. The definition also extends to these workers when protected by a traffic barricade.

Still, ambiguities exist.

Two warning signs will indicate an upcoming work zone, but it is unclear whether those signs will be covered or removed when workers are not present.

This was why Sen. John H. Eichelberger Jr., R-Blair, joined the minority in opposition of the bill.

Eichelberger said he personally sees work zones marked as active where no one is working, so he feels penalties should be a two-way street. As a result, he asked for the inclusion of penalties for contractors that don’t mark a zone inactive before leaving it.

Because the language wasn’t included, he voted against it, with the notion to hold everyone accountable, even contractors.

The first work zone offense results in a $75 fine and $150 for every citation thereafter. Another unclear component arises as to how to enforce this.

The work zone offenses aren’t considered moving violations or infractions against the driver, so at this point, it is uncertain how this will be enforced because PennDOT wouldn’t keep the records and the vendor can only do so for up to a year.

But the goal of it is to be a costly financial warning for motorists to pay attention, said William Casey, Schwank’s legislative director.

His boss agrees.

“It was meant more to send a message,” Schwank said. “Ultimately, this is going to be an important life-saver not only for highway construction workers, but also motorists who are using the interstate and who get caught up in construction zones.”