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Transportation commission approves rules regulating speed and red light cameras

(Radio Iowa) – The Iowa Transportation Commission gave unanimous approval Tuesday to proposed rules for red light and speed cameras that require cities to prove the devices are needed to improve safety on highways. The commission held a workshop prior to their regular meeting to discuss the rules.

DOT director, Paul Trombino, told the commission Iowa is the only state with cameras that doesn’t have uniform rules on how the cameras should be used.  Trombino says he believes some communities have put out the cameras and then don’t do anything to follow up to see if the cameras are improving safety. “What these rules do and what the process says, is that has to be an ongoing process,” Trombino explains.

Cities are collecting thousands of dollars from the camera fines and Trombino says that has led some cities to use safety as a cover to collect the revenue from the cameras. “It’s very hard when you generate revenue from a safety element to sort of not get to the revenue. That’s in the back of the mind,” Trombino says. “We’ve heard this at the administrative rules committee from one of the senators, that the pitches that the companies make…it’s not about safety, it all has to do with how much money they are going to get every month.”

Trombino says the rules will help everyone make a decision based on the actual safety factor. “Having a transparent process to try to remove the revenue piece as much as we can is a benefit to the systems long term — that being photo enforcement. Because now there’s a process that says here’s how we are deciding this,” according to Trombino.

Commissioner Amy Reasoner lives in Cedar Rapids, one of the cities that has installed speed cameras on the interstate. Reasoner expressed concern that the rules were too restrictive. “You come away with the sense that it is a tool that will be used. It seems to me that this is written in a way that says you are not ever gonna get it,” Reasoner says.

Trombino says if the rules are implemented, it will not be a ban on the cameras. “We’re not trying to say that this eliminates them all,” Trombino says, “what this does is it puts process to them.” He says there may be some cameras that go away and there may be some that are started up, it depends on the specifics of the project.

The commission had some discussion before taking the final vote at their meeting in Ames. Commissioner Tom Reiley of Oskaloosa said as a former mayor he was concerned about maintaining local control over the issue. “I have some concerns right now of how fluid this can be,” Reiley said. “But at the same time, if we are going to have this, we have to have some sort of process.”

He also express concern that the rules might be changed to prevent cameras. “If we start this process and a community does everything they should, I don’t want to see a goalpost get moved and say ‘well you haven’t done enough’,” Reiley said. Trombino responded to Reiley. “The department’s not about moving goalposts around. We want to have one process that’s consistent that brings uniformity to the system, that’s the overriding concern,” he said. “And having that uniformity on the primary highways it’s especially important because of the movement of that traffic we see.”

Reasoner said she feels the safety has improved on the curves of the interstate in Cedar Rapids where the cameras have been place, but said she doesn’t have the safety data to back it up. Reasoner said she wants to be sure communities can use the cameras if they have safety concerns. “If this is a tool that works and we can establish through data that it that works, I don’t want to remove that tool out of the toolbox of my community or any other community that needs that tool in order to modify that behavior,” according to Reasoner.

The rules require a city to perform an engineering analysis of the highway and also present some alternatives to the cameras to address any safety issues. Cities that currently have cameras installed would have to do the engineering study by May first. The rules must still go through the legislative approval process before being enacted.