CEDAR RAPIDS — The days of traffic cameras on Iowa highways and interstates could be numbered thanks to a newly configured Statehouse and vows to push hard this spring on legislation banning the cameras.
“Going forward, there appears to be a serious threat to ban these statewide,” said Cedar Rapids Mayor Ron Corbett, who supports the use of cameras. “State leaders have said they intend to pass legislation, and the governor plans to sign it.”
Corbett said Republican leaders may feel “emboldened” after major wins on Election Day, and the libertarian wing of the Republican party may create a “nucleus of support to convince others the cameras should be banned.”
Cedar Rapids has the most robust system of traffic cameras — used to ticket speeders and red light violators — of six Iowa cities using the technology. Cedar Rapids has seven camera locations with the vast majority of tickets coming from four locations on Interstate 380.
The Iowa Department of Transportation has already ordered several traffic cameras in Iowa moved or turned off, but Cedar Rapids, Des Moines, Muscatine and Sioux City have sued contending Iowa DOT rules don’t have jurisdiction over local enforcement practices. The cameras remain on.
Cedar Rapids generates $3 million to $3.5 million annually from the cameras, and needs to account for the possibility of lost revenue during budgeting for the upcoming fiscal year, Corbett said.
“This certainly will have an impact as we are developing the budget for the new fiscal year,” Corbett said. “Currently, we are starting to put the pieces of the budget together here in November and December. ... We can’t be completely blind to speculation.”
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State Sen. Brad Zaun, R-Urbandale, has vowed to introduce legislation to ban the cameras during the upcoming legislative session. Mike Gronstal, D-Council Bluffs, had blocked the legislation from being introduced in the senate as senate majority leader, but he was voted out of office last week.
“My prediction, you might as well go right ahead and remove those because I am going to do everything I can and I feel very good that this is going to pass and these traffic enforcement cameras are going to be banned in the state of Iowa,” Zaun said on the Simon Conway radio program last week.
Zaun noted similar legislation has been approved through the Iowa House, and he said he has “votes across party lines in the Senate.”
Gov. Terry Branstad last week echoed a previous statement that he would sign the legislation if it reaches his desk, an aide said.
In the Iowa House, Rep. Walt Rogers, R-Cedar Falls, said on the Simon Conway Show he plans to introduce a House version of the bill.
“I can’t guarantee it will be easy, but I think there’s a lot better time of getting it passed,” Rogers said on the air.
Zaun, who called them “scameras” and Rogers are among a number of critics who contend traffic cameras are about revenue, not safety.
Corbett though comes down on the side of safety. Cedar Rapids has not seen a fatality on Interstate 380 and serious crashes have gone down in areas watched by the cameras since installation in 2010. The safe record on 380 comes as Iowa has seen a spike in traffic fatalities and is on pace for the deadliest year on the roads since 2008.
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Without cameras, not only could an increasingly busy I-380 become more dangerous for motorists, it’s also very dangerous for law enforcement attempting to pull people over, particularly on a stretch known as the S-curve through the downtown area, Corbett said.
Corbett described it as ironic limited government Republicans want statewide oversight over traffic enforcement. He also said some lawmakers may want to give the courts a chance to hear the case before passing a statewide law.
State Sen. Rob Hogg, D-Cedar Rapids, said he plans to continue defending “home rule” authority for communities to use the cameras, and said instead of a statewide ban, lawmakers could establish statewide standards. He didn’t deny the votes may be in place for an outright ban, which he considered a “knee jerk ideological reaction.”
“This isn’t a partisan issue,” Hogg said. “Different people view this based on their different experiences. But, if they’ve done the vote count and they say they have the votes, then I guess we’ll see.”