CEDAR RAPIDS — The city of Cedar Rapids is on pace to more than double its projection of annual revenue from fines issued by automated speed and red-light cameras, according to newly released monthly reports, raising questions about how potentially millions of extra dollars would be used.
At this point, city officials say they plan to monitor revenue and adjust the forecast if necessary. They have no plans yet for extra revenue, other than putting it in the public safety fund.
Motorists — mostly those traveling on Interstate 380 through downtown Cedar Rapids — are receiving an average of 756 automated traffic enforcement tickets per day, far more than the 423 tickets per day issued in fiscal 2016, the last full year the camera program was active before going on hiatus, according to the latest figures.
“The effect of having the ATE system deactivated for nearly two years had a profound effect on driving behavior,” Cedar Rapids police Capt. Cody Estling said in an email. “Way too many motorists have been speeding.”
The camera enforcement program was restored in July after being halted during a lawsuit in which the city ultimately prevailed.
Police officials point out the number of citations issued each month is decreasing, which they call an encouraging trend and one they hope translates to safer roadways.
In the areas covered by the cameras, the number of vehicles traveling at the highest speeds — 26-30 mph above the limit and 31-plus mph above — also had declined each month, the data shows.
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According to the city, in July — the first month violations were enforced — 26,424 tickets were issued, followed by 24,611 in August, 21,351 in September, and 20,602 in October, which is the most recent month for which the data is posted.
Cedar Rapids has four speed camera locations on I-380, which has a speed limit of 55 mph through downtown; five camera locations in town that enforce speed limits and red-light running; and a mobile speed camera vehicle.
Speed violations are issued for those traveling at least 12 mph above the speed limit. For a red-light violation, the vehicle must travel past the white painted line while the traffic light is red.
Cedar Rapids officials originally projected $4.7 million in revenue from the cameras in the first year. The city would keep $3 million, or 64 percent, and use those proceeds to hire 10 officers and an administrator to help with processing tickets. The city’s traffic camera vendor, Sensys Gatso USA, would get $1.7 million, per a 2019 contract dictating the Beverly, Mass., company would receive $20 from each $75 speed ticket and $22 from each $100 red light ticket.
Because numbers for citations issued are creeping down, police caution against projecting the number of citations based on the first few months of the cameras being reactivated. But if the four-month ticket average were to hold, and if the rate of successful collections stays the same 55 percent it was in 2016, the city would generate $11.4 million — not $4.7 million. Based on the split projected in the current budget, the city would net $7.3 million of that and Gatso would receive about $4.1 million.
So far, the city has collected $2.6 million, according to the most recent data.
In 2019, state lawmakers proposed scooping up 60 percent of the revenue cities keep from traffic cameras for the Iowa Department of Public Safety. Cities resisted the proposal, which ultimately did not pass.
Other key data points released include:
• Of the 2,031 tickets contested since July 1, 80 percent or 1,631 were upheld and 20 percent or 400 were dismissed.
• No court challenges have been filed, but the city has sent 47 final notices to vehicle owners.
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• By residency of the vehicle owner, 28 percent have gone to those in Cedar Rapids; 10 percent have gone to those in Linn County outside of Cedar Rapids; 30 percent have gone to those in Iowa outside of Linn County); and 32 percent have gone to those in other states.
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