Fate of Iowa Traffic Cameras in the Hands of State Supreme Court

DES MOINES, Iowa  --  The Iowa Supreme Court heard oral arguments on Tuesday that could impact the use of automated traffic enforcement cameras in the state.

Des Moines, Muscatine, and Cedar Rapids are suing the Iowa Department of Transportation over the cameras. The lawsuit stems from the DOT ordering nine traffic cameras be shut off across the state in 2017. The affected cities say the DOT does not have that power, but the department disagrees, saying it does especially when working to keep highways safe.

“I would submit that the DOT's primary mission is fully authorized to make sure that its primary highway system is kept in a reasonably safe condition at all times. They're obligated to make sure that's the primary road system that's safe and efficient," said Richard Mull, an attorney for the DOT.

The DOT ordered cities to run specific reports on all ATEs to determine if they reduce the number of crashes and speeding tickets and give drivers enough warning to reduce speed before approaching a camera. The nine cameras were required to be shut off after this data was examined.

That includes one camera located on Interstate 235 in Des Moines. The DOT claims since that camera was installed, it did not reduce the number of crashes in that location. However, the city of Des Moines says there is no legislation allowing the DOT to regulate ATE systems.

“Where does the IDOT have authority to act where it hasn't been authorized by statute, and there wasn’t an answer to that,” said Shelly Mackel, an attorney for the city of Des Moines. “That’s because the answer is it doesn’t exist. This is the area where the IDOT is acting, at least in terms of our city, without a statutory grant.”

The city of Des Moines receives nearly $12 million from ATEs each year. If the Supreme Court rules in favor of the DOT, city officials say that money is in jeopardy. There is currently no timeline on when the Supreme Court will decide.