DES MOINES | Traffic enforcement cameras used to monitor red-light and speeding violations along state highways passing through Iowa cities or counties will be subject to state regulations beginning Wednesday.
The Legislature’s Administrative Rules Review Committee heard nearly 100 minutes of testimony Friday concerning the rules proposed by the state Department of Transportation but took no vote to delay their implementation next week. Currently, traffic enforcement cameras are used in 11 local jurisdictions.
However, the new DOT rules may have a short shelf life, based on Senate President Pam Jochum’s expectation that the Legislature may take action this year to regulate the cameras and the possibility that at least one affected city could go to court to challenge the DOT’s authority.
“We believe that the DOT does not have the authority to implement these rules,” said Justin Vondrak, an assistant Sioux City attorney who spoke in opposition to the rules at Friday’s meeting. “I can’t say what my city council will do but, if I had to guess, we’ll challenge these.”
Jochum, a Dubuque Democrat, told DOT Director Paul Trombino that she believed his agency was over-stepping its authority.
“It’s up to our legislative branch to make those decisions, not a bureaucrat,” she said.
Trombino said the agency’s power to set rules was confirmed by his legal staff and the Iowa Attorney General’s office. DOT officials will work with communities who submit annual reports by the end of April to adopt strategies that best assure safety on state highways, which could include the use of traffic enforcement cameras.
The DOT rules require a six-part justification for the use of electronic enforcement devices on the state’s primary highway stem. The standards include provisions relating to motorist safety, signage and effectiveness.
Approval will be granted only for school zones, in areas with a documented high-crash or high-risk location or intersections with a significant history of crashes attributed to red-light running or speeding.
Opponents contended the DOT standards for the approval were vague and arbitrary and granted the agency too much discretion.
DOT officials said the rules are designed to provide oversight and base decisions on traffic-safety engineering and planning, not revenue or other considerations. DOT official Steve Gent noted that Iowa is the only state that has permanent cameras mounted along the interstate system.
“I am hoping the Legislature will indeed set some statewide standards in terms of fines, in terms of signage and in terms of where they actually can be placed so we are not setting up drivers from fines that aren’t necessary,” Jochum said.