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ODOT’s edict on speed cameras has local communities in a bind

By David Skolnick

Friday, July 27, 2018

The state seems to be doing everything in its power to stop communities from using speed cameras.

The latest blow came when the Ohio Department of Transportation ordered Mahoning Valley communities that use the cameras to remove speed-camera signs and equipment from state highways by next Friday.

The local communities impacted by this are Youngstown, Girard, Hubbard, Liberty, Howland and Weathersfield. They use speed cameras on Interstates 680, 80 and 76, and state Routes 11, 82 and 304.

The timing is curious as Youngstown, the first Valley community to have speed cameras, started its program three years ago. Why did it take ODOT so long to come to this decision?

The letters, received earlier this week, cite state law that signage or objects can’t be placed or maintained on highways without a permit issued by the ODOT director.

The letters also state the ODOT director will order removal of property that obstructs a highway or interferes with construction.

Money grab?

Some see the speed cameras as a money grab by communities that can issue dozens of civil citations to motorists in the time it takes to pull over one person for a speeding violation.

Others view the cameras as a way to slow down traffic.

It has done both in Youngs-town.

Police there focus on school zones and highways, concentrating on I-680 between South Avenue and Meridian Road, where the speed limit is 50 mph.

Before the speed cameras, it wasn’t unusual to have vehicles going 70 or 75 mph in that area. Now, it’s much closer to the speed limit.

Citations are given only to motorists caught on cameras going at least 12 mph over the speed limit on highways, except in construction zones where it declines to at least 10 mph over the limit.

At the same time, the city expects to make close to $900,000 in speed-camera revenue this year.

The money is used for various police department equipment and vehicular purchases.

Those purchases used to be made from the city’s general fund, which is struggling to stay in the black. It’s expected to have a $16 million deficit by 2023 if the city doesn’t make drastic cuts.

Then there are blatant money grabs such as in Girard.

Girard citations

Numerous people received citations, costing $100 to $150, between Dec. 7, 2017, and Jan. 6 this year on I-80 after construction work there ended.

The normal speed limit there is 65 mph, but ODOT didn’t remove 55-mph signs until about a month after the work concluded.

Girard officials refused to dismiss citations for those who exceeded the 55-mph limit because ODOT didn’t take away the signs and the citations were written based on the speed- limit signs.

Girard officials should realize this is wrong, but are more interested in keeping the money than anything having to do with safety.

There is a class-action lawsuit against the city on behalf of citizens who were cited after the speed limit changed.

Meanwhile, the Ohio Senate is considering a bill that would have communities using speed cameras lose the amount of money they collect from those civil citations in state funding.

The Ohio House passed the bill 65-19 in March. It’s expected to be approved by the Senate when that legislative body votes on it.

The bill, as passed by the House, would require communities to report annually the gross income of fines collected from all traffic-camera enforcement to the state, which would then subtract an equal amount from the Local Government Fund the communities receive.

Public safety

That money withheld would go to ODOT to enhance public safety on roads.

The move is potentially devastating to communities even though the state has significantly slashed LGF money over the years to prop up its rainy-day fund to the tune of about $2.7 billion at the expense of local governments.

For example, Youngstown is getting $1.48 million in LGF money this year.

Even if the bill passes, Youngstown doesn’t plan to get rid of the speed cameras.

The same goes for Girard though its situation is different.

That city is only receiving $107,000 in LGF funding this year so it can make more money nabbing speeders than it can by canceling its policy.