CEDAR RAPIDS — Mayor Ron Corbett said the city doesn’t know if it will sue the Iowa Department of Transportation after the state agency on Tuesday turned down Cedar Rapids’s appeal of a DOT order that told the city in April to take down traffic enforcement cameras at two spots on Interstate 380 and to move cameras at two other spots there.
At the same time, Steve Gent, director of traffic and safety at the DOT, said Tuesday that the DOT expects the city to turn off its cameras at the four spots on I-380 by Wednesday unless Cedar Rapids decides to sue the state agency in court.
Should the city go to court, Gent said the agency has determined Cedar Rapids will be able to keep the cameras operating until the court makes a final determination.
Corbett said the DOT’s denial of the city’s appeal came as no surprise. The agency makes the rules, enforces them and rules on appeals, he said.
“It’s hard to go up against an organization that is judge, jury and executioner,” Corbett said.
The DOT also turned down appeals from Des Moines and Muscatine this week as it did with Council Bluffs last week, Gent said. Elsewhere, Davenport did not appeal, and the DOT and Sioux City agreed to roll Sioux City’s objections into an existing lawsuit between the two parties, he noted.
The city’s “resolve is strong” to keep the cameras in place, Corbett said, but the city will need to look at the cost to take the DOT to court and to consider how long it may take to get a resolution.
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“Personally, I’m probably leaning toward challenging the DOT,” he said. “But having this thing tied up in the court system for two or three years isn’t anything from a decision-making standpoint that any of us take lightly.”
Council member Monica Vernon said the council has not discussed court action even though the council a month ago strongly supported the appeal to the DOT.
“The thing I don’t like is somebody else comes in after an organization has created a system and the system works,” Vernon said. “We have data. The cameras have lowered deaths. We need to be safer.”
The city does have the option to comply with last month’s DOT order, which called for the city to take down cameras from two spots near the S-curve on I-380 through downtown and move them from two other spots so they are closer to the S-curve.
The DOT’s Gent said the Cedar Rapids cameras would be the only permanent ones on an interstate in Iowa or the nation.
Casey Drew, the city’s finance director, said Tuesday that the city likely would lose $2.2 million of the $3 million in net revenue it takes in from enforcement cameras if it complies with the DOT decision.
In its order, the DOT said the city can continue to keep cameras at three city intersections, though it must stop enforcing speed violations in one direction at one spot at First Avenue East and 10th Street because that camera is too close to a change-of-speed zone.
In its denial letter to the city, DOT Director Paul Trombino concluded that the “facts do not provide convincing evidence” that the city is correct when it argues that the enforcement cameras near the S-curve on I-380 have made that section of the highway safer.
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The DOT stated that it has installed its own safety countermeasures to the S-curve section of highway, which include a cable median barrier, a high-friction surface treatment, upgrading and installing signs, upgrading pavement markings and replacing burned-out roadway lights.
These DOT improvements make it impossible to determine the benefit of any one safety measures, the DOT stated.
The DOT also looked at more and different years of crash data on the S-curve than the city, and it concluded that less has changed than the city suggests since the city installed the enforcement cameras.
The city found that 82 crashes occurred at the S-curve in 2008 and 2009 before camera activation, and 59 in 2012 and 2013 after the cameras were installed, according to city crash data.
The DOT, though, used 11 years of crash data, and concluded that there were 33.17 crashes on average a year from 2004 through 2009 before enforcement cameras and 32.33 on average a year from 2012-2014 after cameras. Total and major injury crashes stayed the same for both periods, though fatal accidents went down after cameras were installed, the DOT stated.
On average, 0.67 fatal crashes occurred a year in the 11 years before the cameras, and no fatal crashes occurred from 2012-2014 with cameras, the DOT said.