Scottsdale asks state to operate cameras

Michael Ferraresi and Jessica Coomes
The Arizona Republic
Jan. 17, 2007 12:00 AM

Scottsdale wants Loop 101 speed-enforcement cameras back on but it wants the state to run them.

The City Council voted unanimously Tuesday night to ask the governor's office to respond by Feb. 6 to a request that the state take over the freeway program. Scottsdale pioneered the speed cameras last year in a nine-month test.

State officials have met with city staff about test results but have not commented publicly about their willingness to oversee or expand the program. Scottsdale officials say the test results showed a reduction in speeds and the likelihood of crashes.

"If there's anything we've proved to the state, it's that they have an obligation to consider this," Councilman Jim Lane said Tuesday.

If the state won't take over the cameras, Scottsdale could consider requesting permission to operate them again.

"The results are strong, they're overwhelming," Mayor Mary Manross said. "We held up our end of the bargain and we showed positive results."

The camera test
Scottsdale's cameras were tested at six locations on a 7-mile stretch between Scottsdale Road and Shea Boulevard. The devices were installed and maintained by Scottsdale-based Redflex Traffic Systems. Cameras took pictures of drivers who exceeded the 65 mph limit by more than 11 mph, and drivers got tickets in the mail.

The cameras were turned off Oct. 23, but the study of drivers' speeds continued.

Warning signs were also covered, leaving drivers with full notice that the freeway was no longer digitally patrolled.

The result was a nearly 850 percent spike in speeding after the cameras were turned off.

A study compiled by ASU traffic systems analyst Simon Washington, presented to the council on Tuesday, suggested that freeway cameras could annually save Arizona drivers as much as $10 million in medical and insurance bills by limiting serious crashes.

Data compiled through November show that Scottsdale's freeway cameras reduced the mean speed of drivers by nearly 10 mph and the likelihood of some collisions by as much as 70 percent. With reduced speeds, the cameras also lessen the chance that drivers will be injured in some freeway accidents, such as rear-end collisions and sideswipe incidents.

Brenda Hall, a Scottsdale resident, told the council Tuesday night that she is in favor of the cameras.

"I've been left in the dust by people who've passed me. I feel it's appropriate to rely on technology to be where police officers cannot be."

Through November, more than $2.3 million in Loop 101 photo-enforcement citation surcharges was collected by state officials while Scottsdale collected more than $782,000 after expenses.

Lawmakers, enforcers
Legislators and law-enforcement officials have expressed concerns about the program but there was no active effort to kill the program evident Tuesday as there was when the program was in its infancy.

If the state is to take control of the program, DPS Cmdr. Tom Woodward, who oversees East Valley patrols, said Arizona needs to establish a way for highway patrol officers to avoid being flashed by the cameras while responding to emergency calls.

Woodward suggested that many of the daily maximum speeds reported during Scottsdale test project were actually highway patrol officers following speeders.

"An officer working traffic is going to be at a high rate of speed, especially during those non-peak traffic hours," he said. "It can also take some time for an officer to catch (a suspect), so there could be multiple flashes at one time."

Rep. Michelle Reagan, R-Scottsdale, said she drafted a bill that would forbid municipalities from making a profit off highway photo enforcement fines. However, she was awaiting Tuesday's decision before introducing the measure.

"A city shouldn't be putting up cameras for profit," Reagan said. "If they're putting them up for public safety, that's great." If the state takes over the cameras, her concern would become moot and she would withhold the bill.

A separate bill, introduced by Rep. Kirk Adams, R-Mesa, would excuse on-duty law enforcement officers from being ticketed by all photo speed-enforcement cameras, including those on Loop 101.

Adams' proposal would allow violators to attend defensive-driving school up to three times in two years to avoid getting points tacked onto their licenses.

Adams also does not want a violator to accrue points on his or her first photo enforcement tickets because those points can lead to suspended or revoked licenses. " . . . I generally support photo radar, so I don't view this as an attack on photo radar itself," Adams said. "I view it as a way to make the system a little better and help people make the transition."