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Bill would make communities justify photo radar on highways

Cities that have installed or wish to install photo radar systems along state highways would have to provide statistics on speeders and accidents if a lawmaker has her way.

Rep. Debbie Lesko, R-Glendale, said HB 2477 seeks a middle ground between those who support and deride photo radar.

“If a city can prove there is a public safety reason to put photo radar on state highways, they can do so,” she said.

The measure has been assigned to the House Transportation Committee, where it has yet to be scheduled for a hearing.

Lesko said she began considering the bill after redistricting placed El Mirage, which has photo radar cameras along Grand Avenue/U.S. 60, in her district.

Globe, Prescott Valley, Show Low, Star Valley, Superior and Tucson also have photo radar cameras on state highways, Lesko said.

Unpopular with many state leaders, photo radar systems have disappeared in many areas in recent years. In 2008, Arizona became one of the first states to install photo radar along interstate freeways, but it shut them down less than two years later rather than renew a contract with Redflex Traffic Systems.

Lawmakers have continued attempting to curtail the cameras since. That includes laws limiting where photo radar systems can be placed relative to speed limit signs and requiring authorities to disclose that owners of vehicles caught on cameras don’t have to respond to notices.

Communities are still able to install cameras along state highways after submitting an encroachment permit to the Arizona Department of Transportation. ADOT reviews these permits on a case-by-case basis, department spokesman Timothy Tait said in an email.

“From ADOT’s perspective, the permitting process for these cameras is a matter of local control and is handled as routine,” he said. “If the city completes all of the permit requirements, the permits are granted.”

Lesko contends that the permit process doesn’t adequately ensure that the photo radar systems benefit public safety.

“There’s no uniform basis for determining criteria for cities,” she said.

Her bill would require communities to provide ADOT statistics on how many vehicles drive daily along the section of state highway where the cameras would be installed or have been installed, the percentage of these vehicles that speed and reports of accidents along that stretch.

Communities would have to re-apply to ADOT every three years by providing updated statistics.

Ryan Peters, legislative associate for the Arizona League of Cities and Towns, said there doesn’t appear to be any substantial difference between HB 2477?s provisions and the existing ADOT application. He said ADOT already requires towns to periodically renew their photo radar permits.

“My understanding is this is not a change,” he said. “They already use a program similar to this.”

El Mirage City Manager Spencer Isom said in an email statement that the city would seek renewal of its ADOT permit. He said photo radar has made a difference in El Mirage, as the number of incidents involving vehicles traveling 11 mph or more over the speed limit has decreased.

“I don’t think anyone, myself included, likes getting a speed citation,” he said. “However, it is hard to explain traveling 11 mph above the lawful speed.”

El Mirage City Councilman James McPhetres said he approached Lesko about regulating the cameras after receiving complaints from travelers who were upset by photo radar tickets.

“Just because you’re speeding doesn’t make it dangerous,” he said. “A camera can’t determine whether going 56 in a 45 is safe.”

Required under HB 2477:

• The average number of vehicles operating each day on the section of state highway.

• The percentage of vehicles that violate speeding laws each day.

• Reports of motor vehicle accidents on the stretch of state highway.

• The design of the photo enforcement system’s hardware components.

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