Loop 101 cameras face test
Vote could ban the photo system
The Arizona Republic
Apr. 1, 2006 12:00 AM
Controversial speed cameras on Scottsdale's slice of Loop 101 are expected to face a crucial test on the House floor next week.
The outcome of that vote could decide if cameras would be banned from all state freeways, including Loop 101, as early as Dec. 31.
Scottsdale drew intense legislative scrutiny this year after it became the first city in the United States to install fixed cameras on a state highway. The cameras began flashing drivers Jan. 22, and the test program, designed to review driving habits, runs through Oct. 22.
More than 180,000 motorists drive through Scottsdale's stretch of the 101 daily. From Jan. 22 through Wednesday, 24,853 drivers were flashed going 76 mph or faster.
Scottsdale officials said they've seen photo enforcement work on city streets, but legislators have taken aim by introducing 13 bills targeting the program.
Eleven withered in the Legislature. But Senate Bill 1146, which has passed the full Senate and the House Judiciary Committee, is the most worrisome to Scottsdale officials because it would outlaw speed cameras on state highways.
Prescott Valley, which is considering using photo enforcement, is also keeping an eye on the bill's fate.
The House Judiciary Committee recently voted on the bill 7-2. and it is now headed for the House floor, where a similar measure died last year.
Scottsdale Mayor Mary Manross said the legislative action "is premature."
"There is no reason for them to take any action of any kind at this time," she said.
Manross said she has pleaded with lawmakers to wait until a panel of experts, including state transportation officials, have analyzed data from the cameras before taking any action.
The analysis, which could take months, is designed to determine if the cameras have slowed drivers and reduced crashes on its 7.8-mile stretch of Loop 101.
Scottsdale police and transportation officials say they believe that early Loop 101 results show the cameras are slowing drivers on its stretch of the heavily traveled freeway.
Although Loop 101 test results are not in, Scottsdale officials point to the success of speed cameras on Frank Lloyd Wright Boulevard between Hayden and Scottsdale roads. Installed in 2004, they snapped one speeder every two minutes. A year later, that was down to 1.7 per hour.
Judiciary Committee members complained they had no information on how the cameras affected crashes on Loop 101.
But Arizona Department of Public Safety records obtained by The Arizona Republic show that in 2005, there were an average of 37.2 accidents per month on Scottsdale's section of the freeway. The average dipped to 35 between Jan. 22 and Feb. 22, the first month of the pilot program.
Rep. Nancy Barto, who represents a slice of Scottsdale and sits on the House Judiciary Committee, voted against the bill.
Like Manross, she said she wants no legislative action until the analysis is done.
"It demonstrates a lack of wisdom on legislators' parts not to wait for the test results to be completed," she said.
She said judging from her e-mails and phone calls, her constituents favor the cameras because they "were afraid to drive on Loop 101."
Rep. Ray Barnes, R-Scottsdale, was among the seven judiciary committee members who voted to dump the cameras.
He said they violate speeders' constitutional rights to face their accusers.
"You can't cross-examine a machine," he said.
Gov. Janet Napolitano has spoken in favor of the speed cameras.
However she did not return calls for comment.
P.J. Janik, a Prescott Valley police commander, said the central Arizona town wants to use photo enforcement on a stretch of Arizona 69 in hopes of reducing fatalities and speeders