Lawmakers divided over embattled I-380 speed cameras

By B.A. Morelli, The Gazette

After two traffic cameras on Interstate 380 were deemed non-compliant with state rules, some Iowa lawmakers say recipients of speeding tickets from the cameras should get their money back or fight them.

Others are urging Cedar Rapids to move the cameras or turn them off.

“Move the cameras and give people their money back,” said State Rep. Bobby Kaufmann, a Republican from Wilton.

However, at least two lawmakers are defending Cedar Rapids’ position.

“Cities should have home rule,” said State Sen. Bob Dvorsky, a Coralville Democrat. “There’s still a big question if the DOT has jurisdiction over that sort on thing. It might be helpful for a city like Cedar Rapids to go ahead and challenge the DOT.”

The Iowa Department of Transportation administrative rule, enacted on Feb. 12, required cameras be at least 1,000 feet from a speed limit change.

City officials said Thursday they will continue operating the two cameras as is, and have no plans to issue refunds.

The cameras at J Avenue southbound and Diagonal Drive northbound have issued approximately 40,000 tickets — worth more than $3 million — since February. Police Chief Wayne Jerman acknowledged he had known for some time that the two cameras were within 1,000 feet. J Avenue sits at 895 feet and Diagonal Drive at 860 feet.

On Aug. 22, Cedar Rapids received a DOT email requesting additional information about the camera program and notifying the city of non-compliance with the administrative rule. (An administrative rule is enacted by an agency to help interpret laws, but it is not a law passed by elected officials.)

Cedar Rapids Mayor Ron Corbett said the city believed the existing cameras were grandfathered in when the new rules took place, and that the email was a request for additional information, not a directive to move the cameras. Cedar Rapids has a contract with the DOT to use the cameras, and the DOT has never given the city permission to move the cameras nor directed Cedar Rapids to take them down, he said.

Corbett said the city wants to work with the DOT to resolve the issue, and he hopes there can be flexibility in the rule.

Some, though, say Cedar Rapids should have tried to make sure they were following the rule first, rather than after being called on it.

“The city needs to have the same respect for laws and rules as the citizens have in paying the tickets,” said State Sen. Mark Chelgren, a Republican from Ottumwa who served on the administrative rules review committee that approved the DOT rule changes.

“Anyone issued a ticket by a camera that doesn’t follow the rules shouldn’t pay it because none of those tickets are valid,” Chelgren said. “I would encourage anyone issued one of those tickets to challenge it.”

State Sen. Wally Horn, of Cedar Rapids, who co-chaired the administrative rules committee, said the city should move the cameras.

“The mayor and city council need to decide to meet guidelines and move it back,” Horn said. “I think (people who got a ticket) would have a right, probably in a class-action suit, probably to get their money back.”

State Sen. Tod Bowman, a Democrat from Maquoketa who chairs the transportation committee, said Cedar Rapids and the DOT need to work together to solve the issue so the rules are clear for Iowans. In the meantime, he says Cedar Rapids should abide by the rules.

“I don’t want to pass judgment on what Cedar Rapids is doing or not doing, but if the rule or law clearly states what needs to happen for a city to have authority for a city to issue tickets via video cameras, I would hope they are following the rules,” Bowman said.

State Sen. Jeff Danielson, a Democrat from Cedar Falls, defends Cedar Rapids. He said the DOT overstepped its bounds by establishing the rules after the state legislature failed to ban traffic cameras. He said he favors local control.

“The DOT picked the fight; it’s up to them to figure it out now,” he said.

The DOT official that oversees the traffic camera program was out of the office, and DOT director Paul Trombino didn’t return phone or email messages Friday afternoon.

l Comments: (319) 339-3177; brian.morelli@thegazette.com

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