Government

Where does Cedar Rapids City Council stand on I-380 speed cameras?

Vote could come after legislative 'funnel'

Traffic flows under the automated traffic cameras on I-380 southbound near J Avenue NE in Cedar Rapids on Tuesday, Nov. 20, 2018. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)
Traffic flows under the automated traffic cameras on I-380 southbound near J Avenue NE in Cedar Rapids on Tuesday, Nov. 20, 2018. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)
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CEDAR RAPIDS — A majority of the Cedar Rapids City Council support restarting automated speed cameras on Interstate 380.

The matter is expected to come up for a vote in the near future, but a date has not been set. Assistant City Manager Angie Charipar said in an email on Feb. 21, city leaders are waiting until the funnel deadline in the Iowa Legislature — a point in which new legislation can no longer be introduced — on March 7 before proceeding with a City Council vote on restoring the cameras.

At least seven of nine council members say they are in support. Where they stand:

• Brad Hart, mayor: “They reduced traffic accidents with injuries by 62 percent when they were turned on and overall crashes increased 14 percent when they were turned off. The message is safety data supports turning them back on.”

• Marty Hoeger, District 1: “I’m still getting information from (Cedar Rapids Finance Director Casey Drew) on it to make a final decision, but I anticipate supporting it. The safety figures don’t lie. And the reality is, it is an economic driver. The income that comes to the city needs to be used appropriately.”

• Scott Olson, District 4: “I’m positive about turning them back on, especially about where the revenue stream is going to go to. We are just waiting for a recommendation from the city manager. I think it improves safety on the S-curve. If people slow down and go the speed limit, we don’t get any money.”

• Tyler Olson, at large: “My opinion is we should turn them back on because of the data the police department has gathered on crashes and serious crashes before and after (the cameras were in use) show the interstate and particularly S-curve are safer with the cameras on.”

• Scott Overland, District 2: “I am kind of in the middle on traffic cameras. I do support turning them back on because the chief is adamant about it, and I do know the National Highway Safety Board numbers support them. But, we should monitor results as time goes by, analyze data and continually monitor them.”

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• Ann Poe, at large: “I don’t understand why this is a big deal. Slow down. Obey the law. This is the most dangerous point on an interstate in the state of Iowa. All we are asking people to do is slow down. I don’t think it is unreasonable to ask. This is not about a money grab.”

• Dale Todd, District 3: “I’m supportive of the use of camera’s, the inherent danger with the design of the S-curve through town gives me more than enough justification to support their use.”

• Ashley Vanorny, District 5: “At this point, I am not going to offer up a comment.”

• Susie Weinacht, at large: “I am keeping an open mind, so I will wait to comment.”

Data from the Iowa Department of Transportation and Iowa State University contradict some of the data City Council members have received from Cedar Rapids police. Police data show substantial increases in speed, while Iowa State data shows only a minor increase. Also, Iowa DOT data shows an overall increase in crashes since the cameras were turned off in April 2017, but it also shows a decrease in crashes with injuries.

The I-380 cameras have been off since a court ruling in April 2017. The Iowa Supreme Court overturned the ruling in April 2018 opening the door to turn the cameras back on with some modifications to the rules, including creating an avenue for people to contest tickets before a judge.

The council vote appears to be a foregone conclusion.

In his State of the City speech on Feb. 20, Cedar Rapids Mayor Brad Hart assured “soon” the city planned to turn the cameras back on, with due notice to the public. Also, the city forecasts the cameras will generate $4.7 million in fiscal 2020, which begins on July 1. Proceeds would fund 10 new police officers as well as $1.7 million to GATSO USA, a Beverly, Mass.-based traffic camera vendor.

At a fiscal 2020 budget workshop on Feb. 5, Vanorny questioned assigning proceeds to hire new police officers, when the intent of cameras is for people to stop speeding.

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“What happens if we turn the cameras back on and now we’ve allocated this money for these extra officers and everybody decides to start obeying the law and stop speeding,” she said.

A light chuckle emerged from some in attendance and the question was never directly answered.

l Comments: (319) 398-8310; brian.morelli@thegazette.com

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