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Suburbs poised to fight Cook County on red light cameras
By Eric Peterson | Daily Herald Staff

Red light cameras were on Woodfield Road at Meacham Road in Schaumburg.


George LeClaire | Staff Photographer

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Published: 6/4/2010 12:01 AM | Updated: 6/4/2010 9:53 AM

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Cook County red light cameras in the Northwest suburbs

• Hintz and Arlington Heights roads in Arlington Heights

• Hintz and Buffalo Grove roads in Arlington Heights

• Arlington Heights and Lake-Cook roads in Arlington Heights/Buffalo Grove

• Buffalo Grove and Lake-Cook roads in Buffalo Grove

• Lake-Cook and Waukegan roads in Deerfield

• Meacham and Biesterfield roads in Elk Grove Village

• Arlington Heights Road and Devon Avenue in Elk Grove Village

• Meacham and Nerge roads in Elk Grove Village

• Lake-Cook Road and Skokie Boulevard in Northbrook

• Euclid Avenue and Roselle Road in Palatine

• Euclid Avenue and Quentin Road in Palatine

• Schaumburg and Springinsguth roads in Schaumburg

• Schaumburg and Roselle roads in Schaumburg

• Central and Roselle roads in Schaumburg

• Roselle and Wise roads in Schaumburg

• Wise and Springinsguth roads in Schaumburg

• Schaumburg and Plum Grove roads in Schaumburg

• Hintz and Wolf roads in Wheeling

The Cook County Board's recent approval of red-light cameras at 30 locations in the suburbs is drawing the ire of several affected towns.

Not least of which is Schaumburg, where officials considered their own "failed experiment" with red-light cameras to be over last year.

Other communities chosen for potential cameras include Arlington Heights, Buffalo Grove, Palatine, Elk Grove Village, Wheeling and several more stretching from Wilmette to Tinley Park.

But Schaumburg is receiving more than any other - six at some of its busiest county-controlled intersections.

Schaumburg Village Manager Ken Fritz said the move infringes on the village's ability to control its own local character and traffic enforcement policies. Village Attorney Jack Siegel already has been directed to send a letter of opposition to the county board and research potential legal responses.

Fritz said there is no precedent for this issue. Before approving 30 potential sites in one swoop, Cook County had stood outside the red-light camera debate.

Cook County Commissioner Tim Schneider, whose district includes Schaumburg, was one of three board members who voted against the measure. He said the recommendation originated with the county's highway department, which has been researching the issue for the past couple years.

"My position is this is more about revenue and not about public safety," Schneider said. "I think the local jurisdiction should be able to say no, we don't want them, please don't install them."

The 30 intersections were identified on the basis of traffic counts and the number and type of accidents they've had, Schneider said. Only 20 of the intersections will be getting cameras in the short-term, but which ones have not yet been identified.

While the issue is now out of the county board's hands, Schneider said he is requesting the Cook County state's attorney's office to explore whether the county's jurisdiction legally supersedes that of municipalities in the matter of red-light cameras.

Cook County Highway Department Superintendent Rupert Graham said his department's research led it to conclude that a one-year trial was worthwhile. Though he's aware of the debate that has raged over the effectiveness of red-light cameras, he believes there is enough potential for improved safety to try them.

"I think the different traffic systems work differently," Graham said. "Our roads are owned by the county and that's our right-of-way. We're looking at how to improve the safety of Cook County roads. That's how I'm approaching it."

A county estimate of the fines that would be generated by using the cameras would make them at least cost-neutral, Graham said. There's hope for financial gain, but Graham said he could not predict how much.

Schaumburg maintained one red-light camera of its own from late 2008 to mid-2009 at the intersection of Woodfield and Meacham roads. The camera generated $1 million in fines - mostly from motorists turning right on red without stopping completely - and a flood of complaints and controversy.

Schaumburg disconnected the camera last summer and took a strong position against approving any more.

But now village officials worry about having the reputation of a red-light camera town while all the proceeds go to the county.

"It's a very legitimate worry," Schaumburg Mayor Al Larson said.

Arlington Heights Mayor Arlene Mulder is equally outraged by the approval of three cameras in her village.

"We have no red-light cameras," Mulder said. "I don't like them. It's a blatant effort to pick the pockets of the suburban residents."

Not all the criticism is coming from towns philosophically opposed to red-light cameras.

Palatine officials aren't against the concept of the cameras. They currently operate five that are expected to generate $600,000 for the village this year.

But Village Manager Reid Ottesen said Palatine has been very judicious with its program, issuing tickets to just 40 percent of potential violators. He's concerned Cook County will be more lax with its standards.

Further, Ottesen said the county shouldn't profit from the cameras when the burden of responding to crashes at the intersections falls on Palatine.

Elk Grove Village Mayor Craig Johnson said he's all for the county pursuing red-light cameras to improve safety, but wasn't thrilled to learn about it through the media.

"I'm disappointed that the county didn't talk to us before announcing this," he said.

Daily Herald staff writers Deborah Donovan, Kimberly Pohl and Madhu Krishnamurthy contributed to this report.