This small town made $5 million on traffic tickets, but don't call it a speed trap

Traffic races along Interstate 35W in Northlake on Tuesday, May 1, 2018.
Traffic races along Interstate 35W in Northlake on Tuesday, May 1, 2018.

As far as Drew Corn is concerned, his town is no speed trap.

Corn is town administrator for the Denton County community of Northlake, which is home to 2,397 residents surrounded by pristine prairie — and lots of soon-to-be-developed residential areas north of Fort Worth's Texas Motor Speedway.

Corn took umbrage at a recent Star-Telegram article about plans to expand Interstate 35W in that area. In particular, he objected to a line in the story that described Northlake as a place "perhaps known mostly for its I-35W speed trap."

"What evidence do I need to give you so that you will stop referring to Northlake as a speed trap?" Corn wrote in an email.

The Star-Telegram, which over the years has received emails from motorists complaining about Northlake police speed enforcement on I-35W, requested from Corn a breakdown of revenue the town had received from traffic citations the past 10 years. Corn promptly provided it the next workday.

The numbers show that since 2007, the town has received $5.7 million in traffic enforcement revenue and that in most years, the town can count on generating $600,000 or more from officers whipping out their ticket books.

It should be noted that those figures include all roads in Northlake, which counts within its boundaries not only I-35W but portions of Farm Road 407, Farm Road 1171 and many decent-size local roads. And the data represents all traffic violations, most likely including offenses such as failure to yield, failure to provide proof of insurance, etc. — not just speeding.

Corn's data didn't specify how much of the $5.7 million actually came from speeders on I-35W. Still, it's safe to assume that the overwhelming majority of the town's traffic tickets are written on I-35W, and of those, the most common offense is speeding. The town has more than 9 miles of I-35W, including the northbound and southbound main lanes, and some highway frontage roads.

But even if 90 percent of the traffic revenue comes from I-35W speeders, here are some reasons Corn would argue that Northlake isn't a speed trap:

There are no tricks with the posted speed. The speed limit is 70 mph for miles before and after entering Northlake. There is no sudden, reduced speed with the stereotypical traffic officer hiding behind a bush or billboard.

"The town does not control the speed limit on the interstate, which by the way is a constant 70 mph and until a couple of years ago was a constant 65 mph," Corn wrote in an email.

Northlake isn't the only agency out there. State troopers, Denton County sheriff's deputies, county constables and officers from nearby Argyle also patrol the area for speeders.

A four mile stretch of toll lanes opens on I-35W south of Loop 820. It promises less congestion on the heavily traveled road but at a cost.

For the most part, these aren't borderline offenses. Corn said that a Northlake council member recently asked for a review of a sample of traffic citations, and the result showed that in many cases, speeders were way over the limit. "Although there were a few citations written for going 9-13 miles over the speed limit, the vast majority were for 14-20 miles over," Corn said.

That part of I-35W handles about 41,000 vehicles per day, according to a 2016 Texas Department of Transportation traffic count.

In the past, a handful of Star-Telegram readers have mentioned that Northlake doesn't have an identifiable city center visible from I-35W, and that for the most part, it appears to be a sparsely populated area — which contributes to the reputation that the traffic enforcement is a rural money grab.

However, the area is about to explode with growth in the new Harvest and Pecan Square residential areas. Also, if the Texas Department of Transportation follows through with plans to extend the frontage roads all the way to Denton, the area likely will see significant retail growth as well.

By then, traffic on I-35W may be so crowded, it may be difficult to go faster than 70 mph.

Northlake Mayor Peter Dewing says he rarely hears any complaints about police officers doing their work on I-35W. "I have only received one complaint myself," said Dewing, who has been in office 11 years. "The rest of the written correspondence has been thanking the officers for assisting stranded motorists, waiting to call in a tow truck, helping to change a tire."

Here is a year-by-year breakdown of revenue from Northlake police citations:

2007: $426,712, 3,680 citations

2008: $378,241, 3,098 citations

2009: $489,716, 4,278 citations

2010: $552,622, 5,271 citations

2011: $628,780, 6,985 citations

2012: $688,827, 6,327 citations

2013: $623,268, 6,052 citations

2014: $691,397, 7,761 citations

2015: $671,848, 6,156 citations

2016: $601,110, 6,617 citations

Texas has a reputation as a law-and-order state, but a data analysis shows it's actually more lenient than any other state when it comes to speeding and reckless driving.

Gordon Dickson: 817-390-7796; @gdickson