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Local News

McHenry County communities examine effects of red-light cameras

New Illinois bill filed to eliminate their use

Photo illustration Kyle Grillot - kgrillot@shawmedia.com
In this image created using in-camera multiple exposure, motorists travel northbound on Northwest Highway Wednesday, Jan. 7, 2015, in Fox River Grove. The Fox River Grove Village Board has talked about getting rid of the red light cameras at the end of their current contract. Ohio has already banned the cameras.
Photo illustration Kyle Grillot - kgrillot@shawmedia.com In this image created using in-camera multiple exposure, motorists travel northbound on Northwest Highway Wednesday, Jan. 7, 2015, in Fox River Grove. The Fox River Grove Village Board has talked about getting rid of the red light cameras at the end of their current contract. Ohio has already banned the cameras.

FOX RIVER GROVE – When the contract for the red-light camera at Route 22 and 14 comes up for renewal, Trustee Steve Knar wants Fox River Grove to take a second look.

The camera is one of six scattered across four McHenry County communities, the first of which was installed in 2008.

"I think — how should I say — it’s certainly not a popular thing with the residents, and it’s right at 22 and 14, and that’s a crossroads of our town," Knar said. "We hear from a lot of residents."

The conversation hasn't gotten too far, mostly because the village would be on the hook for the cost of removing the cameras if they cancel the contract midway through, he said.

State Rep. David McSweeney, R-Barrington Hills, filed legislation earlier this month that would eliminate the program, which allows cameras in Cook, DuPage, Kane, Lake, Madison, McHenry, St. Clair and Will counties.

The proposal is similar to one state Sen. Dan Duffy, R-Lake Barrington, has filed in the past along with proposals that would have added one second to yellow lights.

The biggest barrier to removal — one cited by both critics who would be glad to see them go and proponents who see them as boosts to public safety — is the revenue they bring.

"Right now we would not be fixing roads if we did not have red light cameras," Fox River Grove Village President Bob Nunamaker said, adding he's heard from business owners and residents who now feel comfortable walking the sidewalks that line Route 14.

And that safety component is why Lake in the Hills uses them, said Village President Paul Mulcahy.

“It’s never been question to me or my village board or anyone in the village of revenue," he said. "The cameras have a positive effect on driving habits. ... For most of us, it’s been a long time since driver’s ed. The cameras re-teach or remind us.”

Lake in the Hills initially had cameras installed at three intersections but took them down from two intersections where the number of violations showed there wasn't a problem with people running red lights, Mulcahy said.

The remaining camera at Randall Road and Acorn Lane has led to about 3,500 tickets since January 2010, generating about $412,000, according to the village's response to a Freedom of Information Act request.

The number of tickets issued in Lake in the Hills doesn't approach the numbers issued in other McHenry County communities.

In just 2014, more than 30,000 tickets were issued by the village of Lakemoor for violations caught by its camera at Routes 120 and 12, according to a report created by the village's police department.

The $1.8 million generated by those tickets accounted for about 36 percent of the village's revenue over the last fiscal year, according to an estimate calculated using the village's 2013-14 annual financial statement.

Nearly 7,600 tickets were issued in Fox River Grove in 2014, and the village of Algonquin issued 2,365 tickets for its three cameras, a drop of about a half since 2010 when the village had four cameras, according to the villages' reports. The cameras at Main and Algonquin streets was removed at the beginning of 2013.

And the tickets have worked, Algonquin Village President John Schmitt said.

Crashes were reduced by more than 30 percent at intersections with red-light cameras and by 25 percent at all other intersections, he said.

"They're doing what they’re intended to do," Schmitt said. "It’s a good system. Unfortunately, there are some communities that abuse them and have not really monitored the way they are to be used. The whole point is to make our communities safer."

Not all communities have seen the number of crashes drop, though.

There were six crashes resulting in two injuries in 2006 at Route 22 and 14, according to data submitted by the village of Fox River Grove to the Illinois Department of Transportation. The number climbed to 12 wrecks with no injuries in 2007 and 11 crashes with three injuries in 2008 before dropping back to six crashes in both 2011 and 2012. The cameras were installed more than halfway through 2009, a year with three crashes.

The village of Lakemoor recorded 25 wrecks in 2009, 15 in 2010 and 13 in 2011, according to the one-year justification report it submitted to IDOT.

The cameras were activated in December 2011, and the following year 18 crashes took place at the intersection, though Lakemoor Village President Todd Weihofen has said that since then wrecks have decreased by about 38 percent.

Studies also show the cameras can increase crashes, said state Rep. Jack Franks, D-Marengo, who has sponsored several bills over the years aimed at red-light cameras.

His proposals — ones he's considering introducing again this year after he tests the waters — have included eliminating fines for legal right-on-red turns and reducing the maximum fine to $50.

Franks wasn't optimistic about the cameras being rolled back, though, at the state level.

"Never underestimate the greed of municipalities," Franks said, adding that people need to speak up and have the debate at the local level.

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