Beaufort News

Company hopes Ridgeland traffic cameras are first of many

A federal class-action lawsuit and a statewide debate over the legality of speed cameras in South Carolina hasn't slowed iTraffic's plans to install more of its devices along busy roadways nationwide.

Seven months after iTraffic struck a deal with the town of Ridgeland to install automated cameras to help enforce speeding laws on the stretch of Interstate 95 that runs through the town, Greeneville, Tenn., has hired the company to install the same system along one if its busier thoroughfares, the U.S. Highway 11E Bypass.

Attempts this week to reach Greeneville Mayor W.T. Daniels and Police Chief Terry Cannon were unsuccessful.

iTraffic president Bill Danzell said terms of the deal with Greeneville are still being determined, but the arrangement fits the company's business plan.

"Our market is national ... but we started local," Danzell wrote in e-mail. "We are now in discussions with municipalities in multiple states. Tennessee is one of those states."

A report in the Greeneville Sun indicates the arrangement will be similar to the five-year deal iTraffic struck with Ridgeland, in which the company agreed to cover all overhead costs of installing and operating the system, including hiring two police officers and one administrator, according to town officials.

In return, Ridgeland agreed to split the ticket revenue with iTraffic to help recoup startup costs.

Cannon told the Greeneville newspaper he is convinced the camera system will reduce speeding and fatal crashes on the town's busy roads.

PLANS TO EXPAND

iTraffic officials hope Ridgeland and Greeneville will be the first of many customers.

Danzell said he has approached municipalities in Georgia, Alabama, Tennessee, Ohio, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, New Jersey and New York about using the company's camera system.

All of those states allow speed cameras or do not have laws expressly prohibiting their use, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

Danzell declined to name the municipalities he has contacted.

"We are in a highly competitive industry," Danzell wrote. "Any mention (in the press of) municipalities ... that we are talking to will be highly problematic on a marketing front."

About two days before getting the green light from Greeneville, Danzell appeared before officials in Newport, Tenn., a city about 25 miles southeast of Greeneville that sits along Interstate 40.

According to a YouTube video posted by the city, Danzell made a 15-minute sales pitch to its city council. He touted the public- and officer-safety benefits of deploying the company's "traffic calming system" and proposed the same program that Ridgeland officials agreed to in May.

Newport officials have yet to act on iTraffic's proposal, according to city records.

Danzell also contacted Hardeeville, Jersey City, N.J., and East Providence, R.I., according to records and municipal officials.

Hardeville City Manager Ted Felder said it is unclear when city officials will take up iTraffic's proposal.

NOT DETERRED BY CONTROVERSY

Since being deployed by Ridgeland in August, iTraffic's cameras have drawn the ire of state lawmakers and are at the center of a federal class-action lawsuit.

ITraffic and Ridgeland have been accused by drivers and some state lawmakers of intentionally skirting a state law passed in June that outlawed citations "based solely on photographic evidence."

Town officials counter that the law applies only to unmanned cameras. In Ridgeland, a police officer operates and monitors radar and camera equipment inside an RV parked along the interstate.

State Sen. Larry Grooms, R-Bonneau, called the camera system a "cancer" and introduced a bill last week that would outlaw the cameras statewide. It also would require Ridgeland to reimburse ticketed drivers and pay a $500 fine to the state for each citation issued by the system.

The bill was referred to the Senate Transportation Committee, according to state records.

Grooms' bill was filed about three weeks after a prominent Columbia attorney challenged various aspects of the town's camera system in a federal class-action lawsuit.

Attorney Pete Strom is suing iTraffic, the Ridgeland Police Department and town officials on behalf of two Florida drivers, a South Carolina motorist and "several thousand drivers" who have been mailed speeding tickets generated by the camera system.

Strom's lawsuit takes aim at the town's practice of using "unauthorized mail service" to deliver tickets to offending drivers, many of whom live outside Ridgeland's jurisdiction. Such tickets constitute illegal arrests, the lawsuit claims.

Attorneys for Ridgeland and iTraffic have yet to respond to Strom's filing, according to federal court records.

Ridgeland Mayor Gary Hodges declined comment Thursday on Grooms' bill or the lawsuit.

ITraffic is unfazed by the recent controversy.

Danzell said he is not worried about the lawsuit or pending legislation hurting the company's bottom line or damaging its reputation "on a national level."

"For South Carolina, (the controversy) caused the municipalities and the state to delay their decisions to move forward (with the cameras)," Danzell wrote.

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