Sioux City asks court to dismiss traffic camera regulations

NICK HYTREK nhytrek@siouxcityjournal.com | Posted: Wednesday, March 12, 2014 11:00 pm

SIOUX CITY | The city of Sioux City has asked a judge to throw out new state regulations governing placement of speed and red-light cameras, claiming they are too broad and unconstitutional.

"The new rules effectively prohibit the use of the automated speed enforcement system currently in place in Sioux City, as the rules are difficult, if not impossible to comply with regarding the placement of the automated equipment," the city said in a petition filed Friday in Woodbury County District Court.

The petition asks that Iowa Department of Transportation administrative rules that went into effect Feb. 12 be declared null and void or referred back to the Iowa Transportation Commission for further action. The city also is asking for an injunction staying adoption of the rules until a judge's ruling. The Transportation Commission and state of Iowa also are named in the petition.

No hearings have been scheduled.

The IDOT implemented the rules after months of discussion. Agency officials have said they want additional oversight on cameras placed on state roads to ensure the cameras aren't only to generate ticket revenues. The rules do not apply to cameras placed on city-owned streets.

Under the new policy, cities and other municipalities must show that cameras are targeting "high-crash or high-risk locations" by submitting crash data. The information is due May 1.

Steve Gent, IDOT director of traffic and safety, said Wednesday that the rules aren't telling municipalities what they can and can't do. Rather, they put in place a set of standards that must be met before an automated traffic enforcement device can be installed. For years, the state has had requirements for placement of signs, stop lights and other traffic control devices. Prior to Feb. 12, there were no rules for cameras.

"It isn't about us vs. them. It's about what's right for the people of Iowa. That's what these rules are all about, is to put some sort of criteria out there," Gent said. "We want a process. Anything else we do on a roadway, we have a process for."

The city continues to compile the crash data in order to meet the current rules.

"We fully intend to comply with the DOT rules as they are handed down until they are declared null and void or until they are amended in some form," said assistant city attorney Justin Vondrak, who filed the petition.

Sioux City currently has 11 red-light cameras, seven of them on state roads. The city also operates two speed cameras along Interstate 29.

The petition said that the cameras "enhance the city's ability to exercise its power in protecting its citizens and officers."

Since June 2009, when the first red-light camera was installed, it and other cameras have captured 53,146 red-light violations, the petition said. The speed cameras were first set up in May 2011 and since then have snapped photos of 76,382 vehicles traveling 11 mph or more over the posted speed limit.

The petition said that the cameras have significantly reduced speeding on I-29 through Sioux City. Prior to the cameras, 38 percent of motorists were driving 11 mph or more above the speed limit. After two years of camera enforcement, less than 1 percent of motorists were driving 11 mph or more above the limit.

Critics of Sioux City's cameras have said they are more about revenue than safety. From July 1, 2012, to June 30, 2013, red-light cameras generated $536,000 in revenue for the city. Speed cameras brought in $4.5 million during that same time.

The city recently completed its budget, which had included a $4 million shortfall due to projected loss of revenue from the cameras.

Gent said the IDOT rules aim to ensure cameras are being used to make roads safer.

"On DOT roads, that's where the DOT needs to have oversight, because ultimately the DOT is responsible for those roads," he said.

The petition said the IDOT's rules overstep the agency's authority and were implemented by a process that did not follow proper procedures. Iowa law does not enable the IDOT to tell a municipality or its officers how they may enforce rules on primary roads within city limits, and the administrative rules circumvent the legislative process, the petition said.

Friday's filing is the second time the city has gone to court against the IDOT concerning traffic camera placement.

In August, District Judge Jeffrey Poulson granted a temporary injunction preventing the IDOT from removing the city's I-29 speed cameras, saying that there were no laws or rules in place to show the state had a legal right to demand removal of the cameras. The state had claimed the cameras were an obstacle within construction zones.

Poulson lifted the injunction last month, ruling that the new administrative rules constituted a substantial change in the law and justified removal of the injunction.