Iowa panel OKs rules for red light, speed cameras

DES MOINES, Iowa — The Iowa Transportation Commission on Tuesday approved new rules that would give state transportation officials control over whether speed and red light cameras are placed by cities and counties on state supervised highways and interstates.

The rules would require cities and counties to show cameras are targeting “documented high-crash or high-risk locations.” They would also have to justify renewal every year.

Iowa is the only state in the nation that allows cameras to be permanently installed along interstate roads or highways managed by the state. However, the state has no laws governing their use, leaving the decision to county supervisors and city councils to decide whether to install them.

Local officials have criticized the new rules, saying the state is taking away local control. They insist the cameras make roads and intersections safer and deny that the cameras are used just to generate revenue.

Nine Iowa cities as well as Polk County use automated cameras that ticket motorists who run red lights or exceed the speed limit. The cities are Cedar Rapids, Clive, Council Bluffs, Davenport, Des Moines, Fort Dodge, Muscatine, Sioux City, and Windsor Heights.

Several of the cities have installed permanent cameras to ticket drivers on state-run highways or interstate highways and others use mobile cameras mounted in vehicles parked alongside state roads.

Des Moines uses them on Interstate 235, for example. Cedar Rapids has several cameras along Interstate 380. Sioux City tickets speeders on Interstate 29 and has red light cameras on U.S. Highway 75.

Across the state, the cameras produce more than 200,000 tickets and $13 million in fines annually, or more than $4 per Iowa resident. Cedar Rapids is projected to generate about $4.6 million in revenue in the current year and Sioux City about $2.7 million. Des Moines gets more than $1 million a year.

That money is the primary reason for the cameras, not safety, said critics, including John Bowman, a spokesman for the National Motorists Association.

“The number one reason to put up a speed camera is to generate as many tickets as possible and generate as much revenue as you can,” Bowman said in an interview.

Windsor Heights Police Chief Dennis McDaniel said in an email he thinks the proposed rules give more power to the DOT and could overlook law enforcement expertise. He also questions the standards and metrics the department may use to determine if cameras are working adequately to justify their use.

Iowa DOT Director Paul Trombino said the department only wants to establish a process that is consistent across the state so the system is uniform.

The rules must go through another public hearing before the Administrative Rules Review Committee, a group of five Republicans and five Democrats who provide legislative oversight on state agency rule making. The earliest they could go into effect is Feb. 12.

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