ARTICLE

Cedar Rapids council votes 9-0 to appeal DOT camera order

Data shows reduction of accidents on S-curve after traffic camera introduction

Traffic flows along the northbound lanes of Interstate 380 as workers install speed cameras on a road sign north of the H Avenue NE interchange on Wednesday, Aug. 18, 2010, in northeast Cedar Rapids. (Jim Slosiarek/SourceMedia Group News)
Traffic flows along the northbound lanes of Interstate 380 as workers install speed cameras on a road sign north of the H Avenue NE interchange on Wednesday, Aug. 18, 2010, in northeast Cedar Rapids. (Jim Slosiarek/SourceMedia Group News)

CEDAR RAPIDS — Call it a battle cry.

Crashes are down and no one, City Council members repeated Tuesday, has died on the dangerous S-curve on Interstate 380 through downtown since the city installed automatic traffic enforcement cameras there in 2010.

Armed with those crash facts, the council voted 9-0 to appeal last month’s order by the Iowa Department of Transportation that the city remove its enforcement cameras from two spots and move them at two others on the S-curve on Interstate 380 through downtown.

“The thing that I think would be the worst travesty of all of this,” council member Monica Vernon said, beginning a comment on the absence of S-curve fatalities in the camera era. “And gosh, the very worst thing I can imagine (is) that this program gets dismantled or taken apart in a way and we have a fatality.

“Who is responsible then? Who is going to carry that on their chest forever and in their heart forever? … This is all about safety. And somebody else is, I guess, playing God on that part.”

Police Capt. Steve O’Konek, who helped establish the program, told the council that he was not predicting there would never be another fatality on the S-curve even if the city wins.

“But we continue to look at all the ways to reduce the possibility of that happening,” he said. “Part of that starts with reducing speed through that location.”

O’Konek told the council that the Police Department was recommending the appeal because “we disagree with it.” He said that, in fact, the DOT had helped the city put the cameras in place in 2010.

Council member Ann Poe asked O’Konek if the city installed the cameras with the DOT’s “full blessing” and its “full understanding” to which O’Konek answered yes.

Poe said she spoke with former Police Chief Greg Graham and he said automatic cameras there would reduce the time police officers spent at crash scenes, and free them up to work in the core of the city. O’Konek said that, in fact, has taken place. O’Konek said this, in fact, has taken place.

Council member Kris Gulick said the city, in its appeal, also should suggest again — as it had years ago — that the DOT reduce speed in the S-curve to 45 mph.

At one point, Vernon asked rhetorically who had ever designed and built the S-curve.

Council member Ralph Russell, retired former chief executive officer at engineering firm HR Green, said he was around when the S-curve was designed by the DOT and a Kansas City firm. He said the S-curve alignment was seen as an achievement because it was a way to include the 5-in-1 bridge across the river — which included a dam that needed to be perpendicular to the water, he said.

Council member Justin Shields, chairman of the Public Safety and Youth Services Committee, said he told the Police Department in 2010 that he would ask to take the cameras down if he ever thought they were less about public safety than a “money grab.” He said the cameras have proved they are for safety, not revenue.

The city estimates the cameras will net it about $3 million in the fiscal year beginning July 1 after vendor costs are paid.

The city stands to lose a significant amount of that revenue if it must take down cameras from two spots at the S-curve and move cameras into the S-curve at two spots.

The city’s network of 29 cameras includes ones at three intersections. The DOT also has told the city to stop enforcing speed violations with one intersection camera because it is too close to a speed zone change.

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The DOT, which also is receiving appeals from most other cities with cameras, has said it will rule within 30 days.

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