PHOENIX – Arizona is ending a groundbreaking and contentious program that put speed cameras along Phoenix-area freeways and in vans deployed across the state.
Opponents have argued the cameras open the door for wider "Big Brother" surveillance and are more about making money than safety. The program has been the target of an initiative measure proposed for the November ballot.
Even Gov. Jan Brewer has said she doesn't like the cameras, and her intention to end the program was first disclosed in her January budget proposal. That was followed by a non-renewal letter sent by the Arizona Department of Public Safety this week to the private company that runs the program.
Scottsdale-based Redflex said Thursday that the 36 fixed cameras will be turned off and the 40 vans taken off highways on July 16, the day after its state contract expires.
The non-renewal letter was first reported by The Arizona Republic.
The camera program was instituted by Brewer's predecessor, Janet Napolitano, now the Homeland Security secretary. Cameras were introduced in September 2008 and were added until all 76 were up and running by January 2009.
Lawmakers considered repeal proposals within months, but set the issue aside and appealed for calmer debate when a passing motorist fatally shot a camera-van operator doing paperwork in his marked vehicle in April 2009.
The mobile and fixed cameras snap the photos of speeders going 11 mph or over the speed limit, and violators get tickets in the mail. Supporters said the cameras slow down drivers, reduce accidents, and free up law-enforcement officers for serious criminals.
Napolitano estimated that the program would bring in $90 million revenue in its first year, but actual revenue fell far short as many motorists ignored notices received in the mail.
While hundreds of jurisdictions across the country use speed cameras and some states have limited programs using cameras in certain areas, Arizona's statewide deployment remained the widest state use of the technology.
The state's decision is a setback for supporters of speed-enforcement cameras, said Jonathan Adkins, a spokesman for the Washington-based Governors Highway Safety Association.
"We need to look and see what happened in Arizona why didn't it work," he said.
Shawn Dow, a leader of the initiative campaign, welcomed the decision to end the program but said the drive's organizers still plan to file petition signatures on the July 1 deadline to qualify it for the November ballot.
The end of the state program does not affect local governments' use of cameras for speed enforcement, but the proposed ballot measure would prohibit state and local governments from using cameras for both speed violations and red-light running.
Redflex, a unit of Australia-based Redflex Holdings Ltd., said in a disclosure to the Australian Securities Exchange that it could write off $5 million of assets because of the program's end. Under the state's contract, Redflex supplies cameras, vans and other equipment.
Department of Public Safety officials declined to comment on the contract or to immediately release the letter. Redflex quoted the letter as saying the non-renewal reflected "a change in the agency's focus."
The end of the program will be a disappointment, Redflex spokeswoman Shoba Vaitheeswaran said. She said it comes as the program continued to mature, with improvements being made in court processing procedures and other areas.
Arizona lawmakers approved legislation this year that imposes new signage requirements and other changes for the program.
Joanna Peters, a Phoenix traffic-safety activist, called the Brewer administration's decision irresponsible.
"They're ignoring a silent majority of folks who actually support the program," Peters said. "This is something we could fix, not just throw out the baby."
On the Net:
Photo-enforcement program: http://www.azdps.gov/Services/Photo_Enforcement/
I'm really excited to hear this statewide test didn't go well. Between the new immigration law and the elimination of speed cameras, I think I may be hanging out Arizona a lot more in the future! I love Arizona!!