Speed cameras are coming to Fairfax County school and work zones next year

A sign urging drivers to “take a moment” has been placed at the Oakton High School road exit (staff photo by Angela Woolsey)

Fairfax County will introduce speed cameras to school and construction zones early next year.

At a meeting last night (Tuesday), the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors approved amending the county code to establish a pilot program that will install 10 automated photo speed cameras in school and construction zones around the county.

The program is intended to “increase safety for some of our most vulnerable road users, that’s school children and roadway construction workers,” Fairfax County Police Department Traffic Division Commander Alan Hanson told the board.

The cameras will “hopefully” be installed in nine school zones and one construction zone by Feb. 1, staying in place for six months, Hanson said. Enforcement will begin when drivers go 10 miles over the speed limit with fines escalating to a maximum of $100.

Signage identifying speed camera locations will be placed within 1,000 feet of each camera, per state code, with the locations also being posted on the county’s website.

“We’re not trying to trap people,” Hanson said in the county press release.

It’s not immediately clear where exactly the cameras will be installed.

Each camera will cost about $3,000 per month, according to the press release. Adding in associated signage and other equipment, the total cost for the pilot program is around $180,000.

Speeding has become a huge concern, particularly around schools after a teen allegedly driving 81 mph struck and killed two Oakton High School students on Blake Lane in June. A third student was seriously injured. Residents had been seeking safety improvements, including speed cameras, in that area for years.

A pilot work group found that almost 95% of drivers in the school zone at Springfield’s Irving Middle School were driving 10 mph or more above the speed limit during a morning sampling period done last year.

“In the five school zones surveyed, hundreds and sometimes thousands of drivers exceeded the speed limit by more than 10 mph during the sample period,” the county said.

There have been at least 25 pedestrian fatalities in Fairfax County this year, per state data, making 2022 the deadliest year in more than a decade.

During the public hearing portion of yesterday’s meeting, Chris French from Fairfax Families for Safe Streets shared that four pedestrians have been killed since October, most recently near Graham Park Plaza on Sunday (Dec. 4).

Board of Supervisors Chairman Jeff McKay said the goal of the speed camera pilot is to change behaviors.

“There is one reason we are doing this and that is to save lives, and to do that, we [need] to change people’s attitudes and behavior, around schools and around work zones,” he said. “And, hopefully, the program will be successful, not because we collected revenue [from fines], but because people have changed their driving habits.”

The two residents who spoke during the public hearing supported the addition of speed cameras but brought up several concerns.

One is that by levying fines only when a driver exceeds the speed limit by 10 miles, it effectively turns a 25-mph speed limit into 35 mph. The advocates asked for the school zone speed limits to be lowered to 15 mph.

Additionally, they urged the county to consider the locations of the cameras and to alter the fine structure so it won’t more heavily impact communities of color.

However, supervisors noted there are considerable limits on the county’s authority. The state code only allows speed cameras to be placed in school and work zones, and the Virginia Department of Transportation limits when and how localities can change speed limits around schools.

“We don’t have the authority right now, today, to lower the [school zone] speed limit to 15 mph,” Dranesville District Supervisor John Foust said. “We thought we had it. The legislation on its face says we have it, but as our attorneys point out very accurately, there’s a caveat in there that VDOT is hiding behind.”

The board adopted a legislative program on Tuesday for the Virginia General Assembly’s 2023 session that calls on state lawmakers to give localities the authority to lower speed limits and generally structure the speed camera program as the county sees fit.

If the pilot program is successful, speed cameras will expand throughout the county. A first phase scheduled for implementation in the fiscal year 2024 — which starts July 1, 2023 — would add 50 cameras, while a second phase could add 30 more cameras in school zones starting in 2025.

Full implementation of the speed camera program would require four additional positions within the police department and is estimated to cost nearly $4 million annually.

Speed enforcement cameras have already been introduced in Fairfax City, and they’re on the way to Alexandria City and Arlington County.

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