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The Impact – Work Zone Speed Cameras Coming in 2024

Mike McClanahan profile by Mike McClanahan

Highway work zone speed cameras are coming to Washington starting July 1, 2024. A senior WSDOT executive answers questions about what drivers can expect and a policy analyst weighs in on the expansion of photo enforcement systems around the state. Watch the interview here:

Speed cameras will be deployed in highway work zones starting next summer. Red light cameras and school zone speed cameras have been in use on city streets in Washington for years, but having automated speed cameras on the interstate will be a first. Senate Bill 5272 authorizes the use of traffic cameras to enforce speed limits on state roads starting July 1, 2024 with two conditions: tickets may only be issued for violations that occur when workers are present, and the speed zones must be clearly marked to warn drivers. 

The bill was requested by the Washington State Department of Transportation and sponsored by Senate Transportation Committee Chair Marco Liias (D-Everett) and cosponsored by Sen. Curtis King (R-Yakima), the Ranking Member on the committee. The final version of the bill passed the House and Senate unanimously. 

It was one of a suite of highway safety bills proposed this year and had support from various construction unions in addition to state transportation planners. Proponents of stricter traffic law enforcement say workers are at risk because of distracted driving, following too closely, driving under the influence, and driving too fast through active work zones. 

According to WSDOT there were 6 traffic deaths resulting from collisions in work zones or work zone related backups last year.

Principal Engineer and Assistant Secretary of WSDOT, Mike Gribner, says many of the specific details about the rollout of highway speed cameras will be ironed out in the year between now and July 1, 2024, such as how many work zones will have speed cameras installed at a given time.  

“I need to go back and look at how the law was written, but I think it will be in, certainly in most of them, if not all of them, is the way I understand it,” said Gribner. “The amount of active projects at any given time is fluid, but it certainly could be several hundred, you know, especially as we look at work zones that are in the more rural areas where we’re doing chip seals or we’re doing paving projects and we include all of that into the conversation.” 

“We’re not seeing a reduction in accidents or injuries around our work zones. We’re actually seeing that go up. The amount of injuries and accidents have gone up about 20% in the last year or so,” said Gribner. “We do expect them to bring speeds down. It’s similar to having a patrol there.”  

State lawmakers expanded authorization for traffic camera photo enforcement systems in 2020 with the “Don’t Block the Box” legislation to ticket drivers blocking crosswalks in Seattle. Then they did it again in 2022 by approving bills to allow photo enforcement systems in school walk zones, park speed zones, and hospital speed zones. 

The 2023 bill contains a sunset clause of June 30, 2030, but Washington Policy Center transportation lead Charles Prestrud doubts the work zone cameras will go away once they’ve been in use.

“I don’t expect that they’re going to roll back this pilot project. I think there will be pressure to expand it in the future after 2030,” said Prestrud. “Clearly we’re heading in the direction of more electronic surveillance and enforcement of public areas in general, and especially transportation, highways and city streets.” 

“I think it makes people nervous, but they also realize that we want to make our highways safer,” said Prestrud. “We should keep in mind, though, that because they’re just videoing vehicles that are exceeding the speed limit, it’s not a very effective way of stopping the other problems that are work zone safety related. For instance, people who are distracted or people who are under the influence. These camera enforcement mechanisms don’t catch those people. So this is a pilot project and when it’s done in 2030, hopefully we’ll have some data that tells us how effective it’s been.”