I-380 speed cameras don't comply with rules, DOT says

Unclear if people ticketed in Cedar Rapids have recourse

Traffic moves north on Interstate 380 between the sign where the speed limit drops to 55 MPH and the speed cameras near
Traffic moves north on Interstate 380 between the sign where the speed limit drops to 55 MPH and the speed cameras near Diagonal Drive in Cedar Rapids on Wednesday, August 27, 2014. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)

The state transportation department is questioning the location of automated traffic enforcement cameras along Interstate 380, saying at least two do not comply with a new rule governing how close the cameras can be to signs indicating a speed limit change.

It could mean thousands of speeding tickets were issued by cameras that don't meet the standards of a state administrative rule change in February 2014.

“It appears some of the I-380 speed cameras are within 1,000 feet of a speed limit change,” Steve Gent, Iowa Department of Transportation director of traffic and safety, wrote in an Aug. 22 email to the Cedar Rapids Police Department. “This is not allowed as per Administrative Rule 761—144.6.”

Gent has requested the police department document the distances for each of the speed cameras on I-380, and provide a response within 30 days.

Cedar Rapids Police Chief Wayne Jerman acknowledged two of the cameras on I-380 are within 1,000 feet of a change of speed sign, and he was aware of the proximity before the DOT email. He said the J Avenue southbound camera is 895 feet away and the Diagonal Drive northbound camera is 860 feet away.

When asked why the cameras were used after the rule change, Jerman brought up the location of the speed limit signs as a factor of compliance, and said those signs don't belong to Cedar Rapids.

He said the department still is determining a response to the DOT.

Cedar Rapids speed cameras on Interstate 380

“We just received the letter,” Jerman said. “Looking forward, we will continue working with the DOT.”

Cedar Rapids has used unmanned traffic cameras to issue tickets since 2010, and there's now 29 across the city.

The two Cedar Rapids cameras in question issued a combined 4,191 tickets a month on average between 2011 and 2013, according to a Cedar Rapids police report to the DOT.

It's not clear if people who were ticketed by these two cameras since February have any recourse.

“They were still speeding, and not by just a couple miles per hour,” Gent said.

Jerman said he did not know the answer, and that they still are reviewing the matter.

The speed camera location rule is one piece of an administrative rule change that was hotly debated. The new rules applying to speed and red light cameras were vetted with cities and through public hearings before being installed by the DOT.

Police departments strongly opposed the changes, and local officials criticized the rules took away local control.

“They knew this was coming,” Gent said. “They were aware of it. This didn't sneak up on them.”

Several police departments, including Cedar Rapids, say the cameras reduce motor vehicle accidents, and in Cedar Rapids police say they are the safest option for issuing tickets on I-380. Critics say the cameras are a tool for generating revenue.

Cedar Rapids brought in approximately $3 million in revenue from the cameras in 2013.

Under the new rules, cities that use cameras on primary roadways are required to submit an annual report to the DOT with information about crashes, violations, and other details to justify the use and placement of the cameras. The six cities that use the cameras — Cedar Rapids, Sioux City, Muscatine, Des Moines, Council Bluffs and Davenport — submitted those reports in early May.

After initially expecting to finish its review and make recommendations in June, the DOT asked all six cities for additional information.

In his letter to Cedar Rapids, Gent requested more specific information about the sections of road being evaluated, and for additional years of data in future reports.

Gent requested detailed crash and violation data by year for each applicable intersection in Muscatine, and before and after crash data for two stand alone fixed cameras in Davenport.

The only other question about findings came in a letter to Des Moines.

Gent questioned a “very high” number of red-light violations for the intersection of MLK Jr. Parkway and School Street. He requested information on how many of these were right-turn-on-red violations, and the location where the speeds are being measured relative to the intersection.

Other requests sought to clarify the specifics of the information being provided, and to ensure uniformity for future reports.

After finalizing a review of the reports, the DOT plans to make recommendations. Those recommendations will likely come toward the end of the year, Gent said.

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