- Associated Press - Saturday, May 24, 2014

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) - Six Iowa cities have submitted reports of their traffic camera use to state transportation officials and now await word on whether they’ll be able to keep their speed and red light cameras on state-controlled highways and interstates.

The Iowa Department of Transportation implemented rules in February dictating where and why cameras can be installed along state roads and requiring local jurisdictions to submit reports by May 1 justifying camera placement. Steve Gent, director of the Iowa Department of Transportation’s office of traffic and safety, said the department plans to review the reports in coming weeks.

The adopted rules are meant to ensure that cities are targeting “documented high-crash or high-risk” locations for safety purposes, and decisions made by the DOT to remove permanent cameras can be appealed. The rules also outline an application process for the installation of new cameras on state roads.

The cities that have sought review are Cedar Rapids, Council Bluffs, Davenport, Des Moines, Muscatine and Sioux City. Other cities using automated cameras that ticket motorists have chosen not to deploy them on the state highway system, and Clive has opted to end its traffic camera program altogether as of June 30.

Capt. Melvin Williams with the Sioux City Police Department said the DOT’s rules have severely limited areas where the department can deploy its two mobile speed cameras, making it more predictable for the public to determine where they’ll be located. As a result, he said there have been reports that speeds are creeping back up, and the department has had to send more officers out to enforce speed laws along these roadways.

Williams added that he worries the rules mean cameras will be phased out over time, eventually stripping law enforcement officials of an “effective tool” for speed enforcement.

Gent said decisions are ultimately up to the DOT, but that the review process will involve collaboration between DOT and local officials to fully understand why cities believe cameras are needed in certain areas. He said the idea is to make sure cameras are installed solely for safety purposes and not to bring in money.

Gent also said a provision saying traffic cameras should not be used as a long-term solution doesn’t mean that they can’t be. He said the department will assess different strategies for their efficiency and effectiveness and make decisions on the cameras from there.

Iowa is the only state in the nation with permanently installed cameras along interstate roadways, Gent said. Cedar Rapids has installed several permanent speed cameras along Interstate 380, for example, generating about $2.5 million in revenue in fiscal year 2013. Des Moines brought in nearly $1.3 million with its Interstate 235 speed cameras. Sioux City got just more than $5 million with its mobile speed cameras along Interstate 29 and red light cameras on U.S. Highway 75.

Lt. David Seybert with the Des Moines Police Department said the city has worked with the DOT since its cameras were first installed, so the new rules haven’t caused any issues thus far.

“When new rules come about, we look at them, we abide by them and we just move on with business,” he said.

Greg Buelow, a Cedar Rapids spokesman, also said the rollout of the new rules hasn’t been problematic.

Still, Des Moines Police Department spokesman Sgt. Jason Halifax said if Des Moines decides to install or deploy new cameras, they likely won’t be located on state roadways. He said deploying them elsewhere would be easier, “rather than jump through constant hoops with the DOT.”

John Bowman, a spokesman with the National Motorists Association, said it’s important for local officials to be held accountable for their decisions and justify the use of the devices.

“I think with something as controversial and pervasive as ticket cameras, I see no reason not to have some general oversight throughout the state,” he said.

Whatever happens moving forward in terms of installing or removing traffic cameras, Gent said the focus must be safety.

“Iowa doesn’t want to be seen as a state where there are cameras everywhere, especially in a place where they’re not needed,” he said.


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