The first of January will usher in a happy new year in more ways than one for many Naperville drivers.
City council members, in a surprise move, Tuesday signaled the end of the city's three-year red-light camera era when they declined to pick up the optional fourth year of the contract. Since the holiday falls on the weekend, cameras at each of the three intersections will be turned off on Jan. 3, 2012.
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The cameras at the intersections of Rt. 59 and North Aurora Road and Route 59 and Diehl Road will need to be removed once construction begins in late 2012 on Route 59 between Aurora Avenue and Ferry Road, leaving only the camera at the intersection of Ogden and Aurora avenues.
Also contributing to system's demise is an Illinois Department of Transportation policy that requires the evaluation of at least three years of post-construction crash data before considering the re-installation of red-light cameras.
"It seems to me the red-light camera at North Aurora and 34 is costing us money. I know it has effectively reduced crashes there, but it is costing money," said Councilman Steve Chirico. "The other two intersections will be taken offline in 2012, prior to the end of this agreement. So maybe we should just scratch this thing."
City staff members agree the two violations per day at Ogden and Aurora avenues did not warrant keeping the system active. And no other city intersections have high enough crash numbers to warrant replacing the cameras elsewhere.
City Manager Doug Krieger, who called the council's decision "a surprise," said he believes the widening and other changes scheduled for Route 59 will eliminate the need for photo enforcement along that stretch.
"Whenever you can improve capacity, safety will traditionally follow," Krieger said. "What we'll have to watch out for a little more now is the speeding."
Route 59 isn't the only thing being widened, however, as the decision also widens the gap in the current budget by about $75,000 this year and adds a projected $186,000 to an already $1.9 million budget gap in fiscal year 2013. Krieger said he can find the money but it will be tough.
"The city has been super consistent with what our goals have been throughout the entire program and the council's vote tonight furthers that goal," said City Attorney Margo Ely. "Our program was based on reducing accidents. It wasn't revenue based."
Councilmen Chirico, Grant Wehrli, Robert Fieseler and Doug Krause all voted to decline the option for various reasons while Mayor George Pradel joined council members Joe McElroy, Kenn Miller and Judy Brodhead in supporting the cameras. Councilman Paul Hinterlong was absent but has been an outspoken opponent of the cameras.
"We've had cameras on those corners for a specific reason, and they've been very, very successful. And it has reduced the amount of accidents," Pradel said. "That's really what we are concerned about. We've probably saved more lives than we'll ever know."
The city's red-light cameras at Route 59 and North Aurora Road were turned on Jan. 2, 2009. Cameras were subsequently installed at the intersections of Ogden and Aurora avenues and at Route 59 and Diehl Road on Oct. 30, 2009.