Thursday, May 01, 2008

"They say it's not about the money."

2 cities hit hard with toll road speeding tickets

May 1, 2008

Copyright 2008

When it comes to getting a speeding ticket, a News 8 investigation shows there are two North Texas cities where the odds are against you.

Over a one-year period of time and on a total of just six miles of road, the two communities wrote a combined amount of $775,000 in tickets.

Why so many tickets? Here's a hint; they say it's not about the money.

News 8 collected speeding ticket data from all the cities along the Bush Turnpike and the Dallas North Tollway.

Between the cities of Dallas, Plano and Frisco, there is 22.5 miles of toll road. During a recent one year period on that stretch of road, those cities wrote a combined 100 speeding tickets.

However, Irving, which has four miles of toll road, wrote nearly 2,000 tickets. And then there is the city of Garland. While it has a tiny two-mile stretch area on the Turnpike, it wrote more tickets than any other city, almost 2,500 of them. Garland collected almost $400,000 in revenue.

"From the police departments standpoint, no," said Joe Harn, a Garland Police Department spokesperson, when asked if the tickets were about money. "Ours is about safety."

News 8 shared findings with attorney Everett Newton, who defends motorists at traffic court.

"It's kind of like if you go fishing, you go to the pond where the fish are," he said. "You don't go fishing where there aren't any fish."

And here's what makes the Bush Turnpike a good pond, the speed limit is set artificially low.

"I think it creates a really, really bad situation, potentially for drivers who drive on that stretch of roadway," Newton said.

In a series of reports, News 8 has shown that the North Texas Tollway Authority did not follow state guidelines for setting speed limits. Transportation sources say within the year the NTTA plans to raise the current speed limit on the Bush Turnpike from 60 to 70. Meanwhile, they have been set at 60 for years.

"I don't believe the speed limits have, in any way, set a traffic trap for motorists," said Sherita Coffelt, the NTTA's spokesperson.

Eleven local police departments along the toll system can patrol its roads. But most, like Dallas, Plano and Frisco, leave patrols to the State Highway Patrol. For that service, NTTA pays $2.5 million a year to have the Texas Department of Public Safety patrol.

"Do you think they're not doing a good job, DPS? Do they need more help?" Schechter asked Garland's Joe Harn.

"I think DPS does a good job," Harn said when asked of how he thought DPS was doing. "During that time period, what we were addressing were the wrecks."

Garland said during the year News 8 looked at, the city saw a 23 percent spike in accidents on the Bush Turnpike. It wrote tickets to encourage drivers to slow down. That year, one of every five tickets in Garland were written on the Turnpike.

"What we do is we respond to an area," Harn said. "And usually when we show up, and people see us out there and we are issuing tickets, then the speed or the problem is lowered, then we move on."

The Irving Police Department said spot checks of speeds on the Bush Turnpike show that 88 percent of the drivers go faster than 60 mph. It said it patrolled that road in an effort to bring speeds down.

The NTTA said it appreciates the additional patrols provided by some local communities and that it makes for safer roads, but that's not how everyone sees it.

"Those are ducks sitting on a pond for some local police officer to sit out there, and just get people as they go by and raise revenue for the city," Newton said.


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