Beaufort News

Tennessee town backs away from traffic camera contract with Ridgeland firm

A plan by iTraffic to build on the program it started in Ridgeland and install more traffic cameras nationwide hit a speed bump last month.

The company, which moved from Bluffton to Ridgeland in May, reached a tentative agreement in December for Greeneville, Tenn., to become the second municipality to use its devices. The cameras would have gone along the busy U.S. 11E Bypass, but last month the deal fell through.

The arrangement was similar to the five-year deal iTraffic struck last year with Ridgeland, in which the company agreed to cover the costs of installing and operating the system along Interstate 95, including hiring two police officers and one administrator. Ridgeland agreed to split the ticket revenue with iTraffic to help it recoup startup costs.

During a Jan. 18 meeting of the Greeneville Board of Mayor and Aldermen, Mayor W.T. Daniels called off the arrangement, citing numerous phone calls and comments he and other officials received from those opposing the cameras, the Greeneville Sun reported.

"It's been a very hot subject," Daniels told the newspaper. "As we speak today, that idea has been taken off the table."

Several attempts this week to reach Daniels were unsuccessful.

Bill Danzell, iTraffic chairman, downplayed Greeneville's decision, saying it meant only that "the second municipality to launch an iTraffic program may not be Greeneville."

"There is always a vocal minority in opposition to officers providing consistent enforcement of traffic laws," Danzell said in an e-mail. "I am disappointed that Greeneville delayed the program's launch. But in the 35 programs I have previously launched (with another company), the majority were subjected to delays during the contract process."

Since helping Ridgeland deploy its camera system in August, iTraffic officials have approached municipalities in Georgia, Alabama, Tennessee, Ohio, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, New Jersey and New York.

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

Danzell said company officials were engaged in "active negotiations with other municipalities" but declined to name them.

ANTI-CAMERA BILL ADVANCES

Though iTraffic officials remain optimistic about the company's future, a bill banning the use of speed cameras statewide is moving through the S.C. Senate.

The bill introduced last month by Sen. Larry Grooms, R-Bonneau, was approved Wednesday by the Senate Transportation Committee.

The committee, which Grooms chairs, struck a provision that would have required Ridgeland to pay a $500 fine for each citation it has issued, as well as a provision requiring the town to reimburse drivers ticketed by the camera system, according to state records.

"There was some question as to the legality of enforcing a retroactive penalty, so we took that out," Grooms said. "We didn't want to endanger the bill."

The measure could be debated by the full Senate next week, Grooms said.

Danzell predicts the bill will fail and isn't worried about how it might affect his company's future in South Carolina.

"Sen. Grooms' bill mandates that a traffic ticket is given by an officer coming out of enforcement to deliver a piece of paper on the side of the road," Danzell said. "Any politician that stands in the breakdown lane of I-95 for five minutes knows that such a law will cause injury and death to South Carolina law enforcement officers."

Grooms said Danzell and Ridgeland officials shouldn't be optimistic about the camera system's future.

"I expect a unanimous or near unanimous vote on this bill," Grooms said.

Rep. Shannon Erickson, R-Beaufort, filed a bill last week to make the cameras legal. The bill, H.3443, was referred to the House Judiciary Committee where it remains, according to legislative records.

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