A bill approved by the state House Monday could eventually force the removal of some of the most controversial red light and photo radar cameras in the state.

The legislation would require cities seeking to install or maintain the cameras on state highways to prove that they are "necessary for the public safety of this state.''

Existing photo enforcement sites could remain -- at least for the time being. But HB 2477 spells out that the state Department of Transportation has to review the data every three years.

More to the point, if that review does not show any improvement in safety at that site due to the cameras, ADOT can force the city to remove them.

The legislation, approved on a 47-12 vote, is a compromise of sorts between lawmakers who want to outlaw photo enforcement entirely and those who say these decisions should be left to the state.

Nothing in the legislation crafted by Rep. Debbie Lesko, R-Glendale, would bar cities from putting speed cameras on their own streets. The same is true for cameras designed to catch those running red lights.

But state highways -- anything with a route number -- are within the purview of ADOT. And Lesko said she wants to use that leverage to ensure that the devices are being installed to reduce accidents, not simply to generate revenues.

The state itself used to have photo radar on state highways, installed at the behest of then-Gov. Janet Napolitano.

She said an experiment with photo radar on the Route 101 Loop through Scottsdale proved it saved lives. But Napolitano also built her 2009 fiscal year budget on the presumption that the citations would generate $90 million.

The first-year take, however was just $37 million. And Gov. Jan Brewer, who succeeded Napolitano, allowed the contract with Redflex Traffic Systems to expire, resulting in the removal of the cameras in 2010.

What happened, Lesko said, is cities jumped into the vacuum, installing their own speed cameras on state roads.

That installation, however, requires ADOT approval. And that is where Lesko figures she can get some leverage by requiring cities to prove that the cameras actually improve safety.

"ADOT doesn't currently have a way to stop cities from placing photo radar cameras on state highways,'' she said. "My legislation will allow them to do that if they deem there's not a public safety reason to put a photo radar camera on a state highway.''

ADOT spokesman Tim Tait acknowledged his agency's powers are limited.

"From ADOT's perspective, the permitting process for these cameras is a matter of local control and is handled as routine,'' he said. Tait said it is up to each city to make an application for camera installation based on its own assessment of law enforcement needs.

"If the city completes all of the permit requirements, the permits are granted,'' Tait said. He said the only issue now for ADOT is to ensure that any installation complies with engineering safety standards.

Lesko said her legislation does not spell out exactly what a city would have to prove.

"It will be up to ADOT to come up with criteria,'' she said.

But Lesko said her legislation requires the agency to look at the number of vehicles that pass through the site and what percentage of them are breaking state law. It also mandates that ADOT review reports of traffic accidents on that stretch of road.

Potentially more important, she said, is proof that the cameras are doing their job.

"Not only does it say you have to prove there's a public safety reason to place a photo radar camera on a highway, but you also have to show there's some improvement in public safety when the permit renewal comes about,'' she explained. "If they can't show that, then ADOT has the ability to reject the permit renewal.''

Lesko agreed that providing that before and after analysis might be more difficult in cases where the cameras already are in place when her measure becomes law. She said, though, it would be up to ADOT to decide how to analyze the data available to determine if their presence makes sense.ADOT has existing agreements with Tucson, Chandler, El Mirage, Globe, Superior, Show Low, Star Valley and Prescott Valley. Tait said Sierra Vista and Casa Grande are currently working with his agency to install their own photo enforcement cameras on state roads in their communities.

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