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Speeders pave a $2-million path of gold for a Virginia town

April 04, 2012|By Richard Simon
  • The Virginia town of Hopewell has generated $2 million in speeding ticket revenue, generating criticism from AAA.
The Virginia town of Hopewell has generated $2 million in speeding ticket… (Irfan Khan / Los Angeles…)

Reporting from Washington — The road through Hopewell, Va., isn’t exactly paved with gold, but a mile-and-a-half stretch of interstate generated $2-million worth of speeding tickets for the town last year – and a fight between the AAA and the local sheriff. 

AAA Mid-Atlantic, decrying "heavy-handed traffic enforcement tactics," said the 14,000 tickets written last year for a stretch of Interstate 295 through the town "appears to be about more than safety.’’

The speed limit is 70 mph. Sheriff Greg Anderson said officers won't write up tickets until a driver is going a minimum of 81 miles an hour.

"In the last five years, we’ve written over 500 speeding tickets in excess of 90,’’ he said in an interview. "The highest one is 126.’’

The town of about 23,000, southeast of Richmond, issued almost half as many traffic tickets in 2010 as Virginia’s most populous county, Fairfax County, which has more than 1 million residents, according to AAA.

"While many traffic enforcement programs across the state are on ‘the up and up,’ some of them seem more obsessed with shaking down out-of-town motorists, and in generating revenue, than in managing speed-related safety problems and in reducing speed-related crashes,’’ said Martha M. Meade, AAA Mid-Atlantic manager of public and government relations.

Nearly three-fourths of the tickets last year were issued to out-of-state motorists, according to AAA.

"I understand the sheriff wanting to curb the behavior of people who are driving 80 miles per hour or more,’’ Meade said. But "when you see revenue from those tickets increase from $1 million to $2 million in one year for that small stretch of roadway, that’s when the red flags go up.’’   

Anderson dismissed the AAA criticism, saying that it’s more about politics than traffic safety. He cited an effort by state lawmakers to siphon local ticket revenues for state coffers, a move that he said would hurt traffic safety enforcement efforts.

"Do we need to go to triple-A to determine who we stop?’’ he said, noting that his efforts have led to the capture of drug dealers and fugitives.

He said that he has received strong local support for the effort, too.

"We slow people down. We save lives,’’ he said.

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 richard.simon@latimes.com

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