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Iowa City, Cedar Rapids Not Waiting on Possible Traffic Camera Ban

Gregg Hennigan, The Gazette, Cedar Rapids, Iowa –

By Gregg Hennigan and Jeff Raasch

IOWA CITY – Talk of banning traffic cameras in the Iowa legislature has the attention of officials in Cedar Rapids and Iowa City.

Iowa City officials believe it should be up to them, not the state, to decide whether to install traffic-enforcement cameras, something the City Council is currently debating.

They also said talk among state lawmakers of a ban on the cameras will not affect their deliberations.

“At this point, I don’t think that there’s any benefit to halting the process in its current state,” said Geoff Fruin, Iowa City’s assistant to the city manager.

The City Council on Jan. 24 is scheduled to hold the second of three votes needed to approve an ordinance that would allow red-light cameras to be used in Iowa City. The council split on the first vote, 4-3, in support of the cameras.

Mayor Matt Hayek, who voted in favor of the ordinance, also saw no reason for the council to postpone its work, noting the ordinance would give staff the OK to negotiate a contract with a company that would oversee the cameras. The council would still need to approve the contract, and that’s probably a few months off and the city should know by then where the issue stands at the Statehouse, he said.

In Cedar Rapids, police Capt. Steve O’Konek declined to speculate about the impacts in Cedar Rapids if the cameras were taken down. He said they will enforce the laws and try to ensure public safety with whatever methods are available.

“If they were removed, we’d be looking at that data to see what kind of an impact the removal of them would have,” O’Konek said.

Cedar Rapids is about 2 years into a 4-year contract with Gatso USA to run 10 cameras in the city. That contract allows the city to cancel the contract if Iowa law changes to ban traffic enforcement cameras.

O’Konek said the data shows the cameras are making a positive impact at city intersections and on Interstate 380.

“We believe in them as a public safety tool, to help reduce crashes and reduce injuries,” O’Konek said. “We’ve seen the data that seems to support that we’re having success in those areas. Certainly if someone decides to do something different, we’ll do something different.”

In Iowa City, Hayek, Fruin and police Chief Sam Hargadine all said the decision on whether to install traffic-enforcement cameras should be left to local elected officials. Hayek, however, said the matter was not a priority for the City Council.

“If the legislature implements a ban, we will adjust along with other communities,” he said in an email message.

Hargadine said its local public safety officers who have to deal with deal with the injuries, property damage and other problems caused by red-light runners and speeders.

“I don’t see the state offering much else by way of help there,” he said.

Iowa City Council members have said they are not interested in installing speed cameras, although the type of cameras city staffers want include speed and red-light cameras. Hargadine has said the city could choose not to cite speeders, if that’s the council’s wish.

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