Motorists in Chicago have long been accustomed to the largest red light camera network in the United States, but today they finally have more sticks to throw at city politicians after an audit argued the program is based more on revenue than safety.

Inspector General Joseph Ferguson, who began a four year term in 2009, blasts the program, "our audit uncovered little evidence that the overarching program strategy, guidelines, or appropriate metrics are being used to ensure the [Red Light Camera] program is being executed to the best benefit of the City or the general public."

In an open letter to the Mayor, City Council, City Clerk, City Treasurer, and residents of Chicago, the Inspector writes:

CDOT was unable to substantiate its claims that the City chose to install red-light cameras at intersections with the highest angle crash rates in order to increase safety. Neither do we know, from the information provided by CDOT, why cameras in locations with no recent angle crashes have not been relocated, nor what the City’s rationale is for the continued operation of any individual camera at any individual location.

Second, our audit uncovered little evidence that the overarching program strategy, guidelines, or appropriate metrics are being used to ensure the RLC program is being executed to the best benefit of the City or the general public. Specifically, we found a lack of basic recordkeeping and an alarming lack of analysis for an ongoing program that costs tens of millions of dollars a year and generates tens of millions more in revenue.

The majority of these camera location decisions were made five or more years ago, when virtually none of CDOT’s current leadership was involved with the program. However, cameras installed years ago are still in operation today and have been throughout the two-year tenure of CDOT’s current leadership. Yet the Department cannot produce documentation demonstrating how each camera location was chosen, or why cameras in locations with no recent angle crashes have not been relocated pursuant to CDOT’s relocation criteria. If the intent of the RLC program is to increase safety and reduce the number of dangerous angle crashes, it is troubling that CDOT cannot produce documentation or an analysis demonstrating how each camera location was chosen, including all of those currently in operation, was chosen.

The audit found that:
•CDOT was unable to produce evidence that it continually evaluates cameras for relocation, as stated in its “Intersection Prioritization Steps for Relocations”. Further, since the program started in 2003, the City has relocated only ten cameras from five intersections out of the present total of 384 cameras at 190 locations.
•For one set of cameras, the City is spending nearly 56% of the purchase price on maintenance expenditures each year.
•CDOT was unable to verify the accuracy of the information it uses to determine RLC installation locations.

According to a release by the Inspectors office, the audit, which was designed to answer nine questions posed by six members of the City Council (and can be read via the link on the right), sought to determine if red-light camera installations were made based on CDOT’s stated primary criterion of reducing angle crashes to increase safety.

The audit also stated that the IGO made two recommendations for the City going forward. First, the City should establish and follow clear criteria for its decisions on where to locate automated traffic law enforcement systems. Second, the City should retain records and verifiable documentation of the process for each location decision.

The full audit, and CDOT’s responses to the audit findings, can be found online at the IGO website: www.chicagoinspectorgeneral.org.