Traffic Enforcement cameras: Clearing up public confusion

Published 8:00 am Wednesday, February 7, 2024

Editor’s Note: With public questions surrounding traffic enforcement cameras’ operational times and revenue from citations still being asked, we spoke with Director of Public Works Robert Lewis to clarify some confusion. This is part one of the two-part series. Part two will be published in next week’s edition of the Suffolk News-Herald.

Suffolk’s automated enforcement cameras remain a hot topic within the community. Much concern has been shared regarding the cameras, including both ticket time discrepancies and worries about where taxpayer funds from traffic violations are going. 

In a Monday, Jan. 29 interview, Director of Public Works Robert Lewis revisited the topic to understand the cameras better while also discussing time operations for both school and work zones and addressing concerns over civil penalty funds. 

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Camera system operations and school zone camera details

Lewis emphasized that each camera system is unique in how they are activated, with school bus cameras being triggered by vehicles passing a stopped bus and school and work zone cameras from speed beyond the nine mile per hour buffer. Drivers who go over the nine mile per hour buffer will have their information captured and issued a citation. Detailing school camera time operations, Lewis says cameras only operate when the school flashers in front of the school are activated.

“Those times are actually shown on a sign at each location as there’s different times depending on whether it is an elementary school, a middle school, or a high school,” he said. “The rest of the time, those cameras are not operational. It’s only during the time the school is taking in [during] the morning [and] letting out in the afternoon while the lights are flashing, which notes a lowered speed limit.”

On comments regarding school zone ticket time discrepancies, Lewis said he guarantees that cameras are not capturing drivers outside the time limit.

“The flashing lights may not be working, but you would be within the time limit and the sign says the signal system is operational,” Lewis said. 

Noting that some locations have flashers with old equipment, Lewis says that school officials and a second video camera have helped verify the lights are working at the posted times.

“Anytime those lights do not come on and off and they’re supposed to, we do not capture violations during that period of time,” he said.

Lewis did note what happens when schools operate differently than their standard times. Providing an example of inclement weather causing the school to start at 10 or 11 a.m., he says this would be outside the specified school zone time, therefore not capturing any violations during that period. He notes that at this point, the school flashers can not change their flashing times to match the different school times.

“[In] the very near future, as equipment comes in and we can change it out, we would be able to modify the flashing times of those signs. So even on those days, we still will not catch violations. We’re going to have the lights operating that matches what times the schools are actually opening and closing. Again, we’re trying to get people to slow down and be safe in our school zones,” Lewis said.

Lewis also clarified that school zones are still operational during summer school dates and times. 

Work zone camera operations

Lewis also detailed that the work zone cameras will only be on during specific periods, noting that the Holland Rd widening project and Pruden Boulevard at College and Career Academy Roadway Project sites have cameras operational from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. on weekdays, Monday through Friday. Lewis further explained that “unless something out of the ordinary” happens, causing the project to shut down, the cameras will be turned off.

“So weekdays during the day, 7 a.m. to 5 p.m., those cameras will be operational – unless something out of the ordinary happened and the entire project got shut down for that day. Let’s say we had a massive snowstorm. We would turn the cameras off,” he said. 

Using Holland Rd as an example, Lewis stated that due to traffic volumes, overnight work has happened during weekends with camera systems and flashing lights on.

“So, there’s a possibility you could get a ticket outside of 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday, but it would have to [be] during a time when we specifically said, ‘Okay, we got a lane closure up on Holland Rd on Tuesday night from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. because they put the water line in,” he said. “At that particular time, the cameras would have been turned on.”

Lewis says these work zone schedules and projects are shared every day of the week on the city’s website at www.suffolkva.us/1234/Road-Closures-and-Possible-Traffic-Delay. He advised work zone cameras remain active even during a worker’s lunch break. 

Part two of the series will focus on how citations are verified and how the revenue will be spent.