CHARLACK • The controversial speed cameras on Interstate 170 are coming down.
Charlack Mayor James Beekman said Friday the portable cameras posted last year are being removed because they have successfully reduced the number of speeders on the slice of the highway that passes through the tiny city.
The cameras, which have been monitoring traffic on I-170 from the Lackland Road overpass, will come down Monday. Yellow signs have cautioned drivers that the quarter-mile stretch of highway is "Speed photo enforced."
"It's really done a fantastic job," Beekman said.
The cameras, deployed at the beginning of July, have led to a 90 percent drop in motorists traveling more than 10 mph over the speed limit, Beekman said. Motorists traveling at 80 mph or more have all but disappeared, he added.
The posted speed limit on that section of highway is 60 mph. Offenders were issued $100 tickets.
Beekman also claims the speed cameras have slowed motorists on the highway in adjacent communities.
The cameras were criticized by St. Louis County Police Chief Tim Fitch as a revenue generator that had little to do with public safety. City officials also drew the ire of the Missouri Department of Transportation over the way markings for the cameras were installed on I-170 without the agency's permission.
And the city came under fire when the Police Department was accused of not always stationing an officer with cameras for monitoring, as MoDOT had instructed.
Fitch said Friday night that while the cameras may have reduced speeders on a small section of I-170, they did not necessarily make the roadway safer. There were not many crashes on the slice of the highway in the past, Fitch said, so the impact was minimal.
"I think public opinion is what has caused the cameras to come down, not that they necessarily reduced accidents on that section of I-170," Fitch said.
Charlack officials have said the curve in the highway as it goes through their city makes it more dangerous than in other places.
"There can be no question that this program has been a success in providing a safer highway for the 99.9 percent of the motorists who drive safely and follow the posted speed limits," Beekman said.
But Fitch said he believes that while motorists slowed down through the camera zone, drivers returned to higher speeds upon leaving the monitored area.
Charlack plans to move the cameras to another road within municipal boundaries.
Police and city officials will continue to monitor the highway traffic and will bring back the cameras if speeding increases significantly after their removal, Beekman said.
"If we have to revert back to what it was, we have that tool to use," the mayor said.
Earlier this week, the Washington, Mo., City Council voted to discontinue its red light cameras in March.
City officials said the cameras did not significantly reduce crashes at two main intersections. The cameras had been in place for three years.
Fitch said he senses that municipal leaders may be pulling red light and speed cameras as a pre-emptive move to prevent the Legislature from banning them statewide.
Cameras that are used to issue tickets to drivers who speed or run red lights have been controversial since they began popping up in recent years. At least one state lawmaker has maintained that drivers can ignore red light tickets. Law enforcement officers have urged the state Legislature to set up guidelines for the use of the cameras.
The Missouri Highways and Transportation Commission is expected to take up the issue of photo enforcement of speed and red light offenses when it meets next week in Jefferson City.