Electronic signs on the Long Island Expressway warn motorists of...

Electronic signs on the Long Island Expressway warn motorists of impending speed camera use in work zones in Yaphank on Tuesday. Credit: Tom Lambui

The state has launched its first speed camera program in Long Island highway construction zones, saying it improves worker safety. But the initiative has already riled up some drivers who believe it's a cash grab.

The state deployed SUVs equipped with cameras intended to catch motorists whizzing through construction areas on the Long Island Expressway and other state roads this week as part of the new automated ticketing program, state officials said.

Only operating when work is underway, the “mobile units” were in place Monday near exits 49 and 61 on the LIE. They had already been dispatched to other sections of the expressway, according to Joseph Morrissey, a spokesman with the state Department of Transportation.

It’s the state’s first use of speed cameras to crack down on drivers who fail to slow down at construction zones on state highways. Electronic billboards on the Long Island Expressway alerted drivers about the automated enforcement.

WHAT TO KNOW

  • Thirty mobile speed cameras have been deployed in active work zones across the state, including Long Island, under a pilot program.
  • For the first 30 days, drivers will receive warnings by mail. After that period ends, escalating fines will start at $50.
  • The state says the cameras are intended to protect workers in construction zones, but some drivers and lawmakers feel it’s about generating money.

There will be 30 units roaming from one active construction zone to another.

“Tickets will be issued during active construction projects with workers present in the work zones,” Morrissey said in an email.

“These operations will change often by the day but we expect most of the operations to be conducted on higher speed state highways across Long Island,” he continued.

The state enacted the plan under a bill signed last year by Gov. Kathy Hochul intended to prevent accidents and protect workers in construction zones, but some drivers and lawmakers believe the cameras are a money-generating scheme.

For the first 30 days, speeding drivers will catch a break with only warnings in the mail. But after that period ends, fines will start at $50, escalate to $75 for the second violation, $100 for the third ticket and $100 fines for any additional tickets within 18 months of the first violation.

Mike Elmendorf, the president and CEO of the Associated General Contractors of New York State, expects there will be a “significant presence of [the cameras] on Long Island.”

The SUVs will be stationed at 20 Department of Transportation-maintained roads and 10 on the upstate New York State Thruway, according to a news release issued Monday, when the program started. The roaming units will not permanently stay at any one location.

"They can move them from work zone to work zone and deploy them where they’re necessary," said Elmendorf, who has been pushing for the program for several years because of too many crashes near work zones.

"There's been way too many people who haven’t been able to go home … we hope this forces (drivers) to slow down," Elmendorf said.

Driver Bill Denis, 67, from Selden, expects this will become a "cash cow" for the state.

"I feel personally it’s a just a way for them to make money," Denis said.

“At the end of the day, it’s the working man that’s going to have to pay," he said.

Assemb. Fred Thiele (D-Sag Harbor), who supported the bill, pointed to DOT statistics that showed 50 people lost their lives in work zones on state highways from 2010 to 2016 and there were over 1,100 injuries to motorists and workers during that period.

He said using this technology to help make work zones safer makes sense.

“I think from a safety perspective, there's a compelling reason for enforcement,” Thiele said.

Industry experts also said the cameras can prevent accidents.

Sean Grubert, vice president of environmental health and safety for the Melville-based construction firm Haugland Group, said employees have had several close calls.

“By the grace of God, we have not had somebody actually get hurt or killed but we have had it before where people not paying attention, have driven through work zone setups," he said. “If it wasn't for the men and women that were out there, with their head on a swivel and being able to help get them out of harm's way.”

Some Long Islanders and at least one elected official were not too pleased to hear about the latest traffic initiative.

Suffolk County Legis. Anthony Piccirillo (R-Holtsville) doesn't support camera ticketing programs and felt this one was rolled out with no advance notice.

"How much money are they spending on educating the public that these things are going off and here's what the fee schedule is and these are the parameters of this program?" Piccirillo said.

"This is nothing but a money grab for governments who can't control spending."

After the warning period, any driver found speeding above a certain level will be fined based on license plate images and radar readings sent to the state Department of Transportation. Officials said cameras will not record images of drivers.

Citations will be sent by mail to New York residents within two weeks of the violation. Tickets will be mailed within 45 days to out-of-state residents.

Unpaid fines may result in a hold on registration until fines are paid. Fines can be contested within 30 days after citations are received.

The state will use 60% of fines collected to help pay for work zone safety projects, officials said. It did not disclose where the other money would go.

Patrick Balzer, 42, of Mastic Beach, said he’s all for roads being patrolled but feels this is an overstep. “I have no problem with them patrolling the area but I think this is a cash grab,” Balzer said.

“I also think a lot of people are struggling right now and it’s a bad time to grab cash from the working public.”

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