Cedar Rapids will start using its speed cameras on I-380 ‘soon’

Photo by Kurt Zenisek

Cedar Rapids will start using its speed cameras on I-380 to issue tickets again “soon,” Mayor Brad Hart announced during his State of the City speech on Wednesday. Hart seemed to acknowledge that the decision is unpopular by prefacing his announcement with, “You probably don’t want to hear this,” before claiming the cameras are almost universally popular in Cedar Rapids.

“If 50 people have talked to me about the cameras, 49 have said please turn the cameras back on,” Hart said. “And the one that doesn’t like them, doesn’t live in Cedar Rapids.”

No tickets have been issued by the I-380 camera system since April 2017, when a Polk County judge upheld an Iowa Department of Transportation (IDOT) order banning all speed cameras on the state’s highways. IDOT said that motorists suddenly slowing down because of the presence of speed cameras made highway travel less safe. In April 2018, the Iowa Supreme Court overturned the lower court decision, ruling that IDOT had exceeded its authority.

Cedar Rapids did not resume using the cameras to issue tickets after that April decision, because there was a still a case before the Iowa Supreme Court, in which plaintiffs who had been ticketed by the city alleged the camera system violated their right to due process.

Last month the court ruled that the use of automated cameras constitutes a “reasonable fit between the government purpose [increasing public safety by reducing speeding] and the means chosen to advance that purpose.”

Cedar Rapids began using automated cameras to enforce traffic laws in 2010. The cameras have resulted in more than 500,000 tickets being issued — a record for any Iowa city. In 2016 alone, the cameras were responsible for 143,800 tickets. More than 90 percent of those tickets were from the speed cameras on I-380, which are located at the interstate’s winding “S-curve.”

Between 2010 and 2016, tickets from all of Cedar Rapid’s traffic cameras generated more than $3 million a year for the city’s general fund, as well as healthy profits for Gatso USA, the Massachusetts-based company that installed and runs the cameras for the city. Gatso USA had been collecting 32 percent of the total revenue generated by the cameras, as well as other fees. In 2016, its share of the revenue increased to 40 percent. Gatso USA earned $2.3 million in 2016, an increase from its total of $2.1 million in 2015.

Hart said people will “get plenty of notice, including this notice right now, and we plan to issue only warning tickets for the first 30 days.”

The mayor explained the revenue from the speed camera tickets “will be used primarily to hire new police officers to make the community even more safe.”