DOT Director: Traffic Cameras Need to Prove Safety, Not Just Bring in Revenue

By Rick Smith, Reporter

CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa - State Transportation Director Paul Trombino said on Monday that Iowa cities like Cedar Rapids with traffic enforcement cameras on state roads won't have to take them down if they add to highway safety.

Instead, Trombino said proposed new rules being adopted by the state will require that cities with enforcement cameras along with the state conduct an annual review to see if the cameras are adding to highway safety and not simply producing revenue for local communities.

He said the Department of Transportation and local communities can work on the safety analysis together.

"It's really us together," Trombino said. "We need to sit down, understand how they are functioning ... and make sure that its original intent and the value that we're getting out of them is still functioning."

He said enforcement cameras need a process of evaluation just like any other safety device that the DOT puts into the highway system.

"We don't put it out and say, 'See you in 10 years, hope it goes well,'" he said. "We constantly monitor that, look at that, to make sure that it's getting the value out of it that we expect on the safety side."

Safety, he said, is a comprehensive issue, and he said enforcement cameras alone may not be responsible for improved safety where the cameras are located, he said.

He said a comprehensive safety audit of Interstate 380 conducted in 2009 has resulted in an assortment of improvements to the highway in Cedar Rapids since. The city of Cedar Rapids employs enforcement cameras on the S-curve of Interstate 380 as it winds across the Cedar River and past downtown.

Trombino said Iowa is the only state that allows fixed traffic enforcement cameras on an Interstate as is the case in Cedar Rapids. Arizona had, but discontinued the practice, he said.

Trombino said the proposed new rules aren't intended to "ban" the cameras or require the removal of cameras.

"People say, 'As soon as February comes around, the rules get approved, somehow we're going to be out there taking cameras down.'" Trombino said. "And I told Cedar Rapids that is not the case. I think we want to be careful in our approach. Let's take a look at it."

Even so, Trombino said he does believe that communities have made decisions to employ enforcement cameras based on the revenue the cameras bring in or what he called "revenue disguised as safety."

He said he has seen applications for cameras at spots with no crash history and camera companies pushing cities to adopt cameras because they produce revenue, not safety.

In Cedar Rapids, the city nets some $3 million a year in revenue generated from tickets given to motorists nabbed by enforcement cameras.

City Manager Jeff Pomeranz on Monday said his meeting Monday with Trombino covered a variety of topics, including improvements to Interstate 380 and the $200-million Highway 100 extension project slated to take off in 2014.

Enforcement cameras were discussed as well, and Pomeranz said he told Trombino that city believes that the cameras "are very important for the safety of our traveling public."

"He assured us that this is a state roadway and that he thought it appropriate to have a process for review of the impacts and benefits of the devices (the cameras). So we'll be following that process," Pomeranz said.

On Tuesday, the City Council is slated to extend its contract with enforcement camera company Gatso USA Inc. through December 2016. The city now pays Gatso $30 per citation, and the contract extension will have the city pay the company $25 a citation for fixed and mobile speed cameras and $27 per citation for red-light cameras.

Pomeranz said the lower fees will help maintain the city's net revenue from the cameras as the cameras work to slow traffic and reduce the number of traffic citations.
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