DES MOINES — Competing bills affecting the future of traffic cameras in Iowa are racing to the House floor.
The Transportation Committee on Thursday approved a bill that would allow local governments to use automated traffic enforcement devices to catch speeding motorists and vehicles running red lights.
It joins a Local Government Committee-approved bill that would ban the 79 cameras that have been installed in eight Iowa cities and one county.
“We have seen an actual safety impact,” Rep. Ashley Hinson, R-Marion, told the Transportation Committee before it voted 17-1 to send Senate File 220 to the House floor.
The cameras resulted in an “increased level of safety on a very dangerous section” of Interstate 380, she said.
There was no further discussion, and only Rep. John Wills, R-Spirit Lake, voted against the bill. He favors House Study Bill 512 that would ban the cameras.
The House Local Government Committee in January approved that ban, 11-10, making it eligible for floor debate.
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House Majority Leader Chris Hagenow, R-Windsor Heights, downplayed the suggestion that the bills — and their respective supporters — are on a collision course to bring their preferred legislation to the House floor.
“We’ll take those two different versions, let the members talk about it and then we’ll caucus over it and find out where folks are at,” he said.
“Traffic cameras continue to be unpopular with Iowans,” he said, “As we reflect what Iowans want, the challenge is finding a consensus, but I don’t have a real strong sense of what that looks like yet.”
Although he’s voted for a ban in the past, Hagenow said he’ll let his caucus decide what it wants to do with the bills.
Democrats says they haven’t caucused on the bills but suggested there may be enough votes between the parties to pass the bill allowing the cameras to operate.
Regardless of which bill gets to the floor first, the other is likely to be offered as an amendment.
The House has voted in the past to ban the cameras. But in the Senate, a bipartisan group wants instead to keep the devices in place but subject them to stricter regulations.
Supporters of the cameras argue they increase safety on streets and highways by slowing traffic and decreasing crashes caused by motorists running red lights.
A Gazette analysis of speed and crash data in October — six months after cameras were turned off from issuing tickets — revealed that while speeding increased by 15 percent, crashes did not, and may have declined. Some drivers reported the travel on Interstate 380 felt safer because people weren’t slamming on their brakes when approaching the cameras.
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Iowa Department of Transportation data showed a decline in crashes — from 27 to 14 — and a drop of crash-related injuries from 10 to one from 2016 when the cameras were active compared to 2017 when they were not.
Cedar Rapids data conflicted, showing 18 crashes in 2016 and 17 to that point in 2017.
Both those who want to ban the cameras and those who want stricter regulation cite law enforcement to bolster their arguments. Others object to the mere presence of the cameras as an intrusion on freedom and privacy.
While the House bill would be a full ban, the Senate bill would allow a local government to use traffic cameras only if they are placed in documented high-crash or high-risk locations. Justification for cameras would include traffic speeds, posted speed limits, traffic volumes and intersections or roadway geometry, crash history and why the local government believes traffic cameras are the best solution. Fines, which could not be more than those issued by law enforcement officers, would go either to a jurisdiction’s streets or public safety departments.
Traffic cameras in Iowa — in Cedar Rapids, Council Bluffs, Davenport, Des Moines, Fort Dodge, Muscatine, Sioux City, Windsor Heights and Polk County — generated $13.6 million in revenue in 2016, Sen. Brad Zaun, R-Urbandale, said last year.