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updated: 2/20/2011 7:51 PM

DuPage reopens red-light camera talks

County board officials looking at options

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  • More than a year after putting the issue on hold, DuPage County Board members are slated to discuss the possibility of allowing red-light cameras at county-controlled intersections.

      More than a year after putting the issue on hold, DuPage County Board members are slated to discuss the possibility of allowing red-light cameras at county-controlled intersections.
    Daily Herald file photo

 
 

With municipalities and police wanting an answer, DuPage County Board members in late 2009 were expected to decide whether to allow red-light cameras at county-controlled intersections.

The vote never happened. Instead, the county put the brakes on discussions about the controversial devices.

"It died a quiet death," board member Jim Healy said. "I think most people could see there wasn't a majority on the board in favor of it."

Now the board's transportation committee is reopening talks about the possibility of creating a red-light camera policy for all county-controlled roads.

"We should at least decide whether we're going to have a policy or not," said board member Don Puchalski, who heads the committee.

One option suggested by staff is to allow camera enforcement at intersections where at least five "correctable" crashes occur a year. Officials say about 120 intersections in the county's highway system meet that standard and account for roughly 70 percent of injury accidents.

"By targeting those locations, what we're trying to do is get the biggest bang for the buck as far as reducing injury accidents or reducing accidents overall," county engineer Chuck Tokarski said.

While some board members support a red-light camera policy, most say they are undecided or opposed.

"I think some towns are pretty darn hot for it still," board member JR McBride said. "But I don't see it is going anywhere. I don't think it gets out of committee."

"Our preference would be not to do it," Healy said. "But we have law enforcement officials and traffic engineers who are sitting there going, 'You know, there are some cases where these actually might help.' I can't turn a blind eye to what the experts are saying."

Several aspects of the debate have changed since the county last considered a policy.

For one thing, there's been a backlash against the cameras following media reports and complaints from motorists.

A 2009 Daily Herald investigation found the vast majority of violations are for turning right on red without making a full stop -- a maneuver considered far less dangerous than driving straight through.

Then, last year, some communities started removing cameras. Lombard decided to drop its last remaining red-light camera, at North Avenue and Route 53, after officials didn't see a significant reduction in crashes.

However, officials with the DuPage Mayors and Managers Conference point out many concerns about the cameras have been addressed by state lawmakers.

For example, authorities are no longer allowed to ticket motorists who stop just beyond the white line or a crosswalk. Municipalities in the collar counties also must have current or retired police officers review possible violations before a ticket is issued.

"All those things helped make the enforcement a better program and more useful," said Rick Curneal, legislative director with the DuPage Mayors and Managers Conference. "We haven't heard many negative comments since that legislation was approved."

Communities with cameras insist the main goal is to reduce accidents resulting from drivers running red lights, the leading cause of urban auto accidents.

As a result, municipal representatives would like to be part of any discussion about a red-light camera policy for county-controlled intersections.

"I think some communities would be interested because they're looking at locations that are problems," Curneal said. "And some of those are county roads."

If a policy is adopted, each proposed location would need to be reviewed and approved by the county.

As long as municipalities meet any criteria the county establishes, board member Jim Zay said he believes towns should decide if they want a camera or not. "Leave it up to the municipalities," he said.

Puchalski said he agrees, even though he opposes the cameras.

"We should at least give them the opportunity to show an intersection really needs a camera for public safety," Puchalski said. "But I would be very hesitant to give these out on a rubber-stamp basis."

Then there's the question about who collects the revenues from fines.

Healy suggests DuPage collect 40 percent of the revenue for the sole purpose of funding improvements that make intersections safer. He doesn't want any of that money going to the county's general fund.

Board member Grant Eckhoff, who supports the use of cameras, said the problem with Healy's idea is that some motorists simply break the law.

"Sometimes, there's nothing wrong with the intersection," Eckhoff said. "They just choose to ignore the traffic signal."

Puchalski said he wants a simple fee-based system where municipalities pay for a permit that covers the county's administrative costs.

"I don't want a piece of the action," he said, "even if you throw it into road improvements."

No matter how the discussion goes, board member Brien Sheahan said he doesn't want to see cameras at any county-controlled intersection.

"If municipalities didn't get any revenue out of this, they wouldn't even be thinking about it," Sheahan said. "This is about generating money off tickets. And I think people get nickel-and-dimed too much as it is."

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