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Red light camera revenue in Illinois tops $1 billion

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(The Center Square) – With Illinois’ red light camera industry sending more than a billion dollars in revenue into city coffers, a Republican state legislator is warning the scheme could be coming at an even higher cost.

A new Illinois Policy Institute study finds that over the past four years, local governments across the state netted at least $500 million in red light camera ticket revenue, bringing the overall total drivers have been forced to pay out since 2018 to $1.56 billion. Of that amount, cameras in Chicago proved to be the greatest source of income at $915.5 million.

“My only worry is them getting tired of all this and causes a lot of them to leave the state,” state Rep. Dan Ugaste, R-Geneva, told The Center Square. “That’s my worry and that’s part of the reason why I even got into public office, because of all the good people I know who were just tired of bad policy and are deciding to leave because of it. Too high taxes, overregulation of business, and lack of opportunity for them and their kids, it’s a bad formula and we’re just heading down the wrong path.”

Ugaste said red light cameras should only be installed in areas where there are large traffic safety problems.

“If we have that information and if it shows a decrease in incidents or accidents, then it’s worthwhile,” he said. “Otherwise, these are just new revenue generating devices for local government and that’s not supposed to be the intent.”

As recently as 2022, at least 527 red light cameras peppered the state, 300 of them in Chicago, where authorities also operate an additional 169 speed cameras that issued another 1.56 million tickets worth $102 million to the city in 2023.

Ugaste said he isn’t surprised by the findings of a Chicago Tribune study that uncovered that the Illinois Department of Transportation determined more than half of the intersections where cameras were installed were among the safest in the state before cameras were erected.

In addition, over the past several years, at least seven public officials across the state have been charged in connection with a bribery scheme tied to the cameras.

“The long list of public office holders who have found themselves facing corruption charges related to all this, I don’t know that it’s any different than anything else,” Ugaste added. “A corrupt official is a corrupt official and they’re going to find a way to try and get money from something they shouldn’t. It’s just, Illinois has a long history of officials thinking they’re in government to get rich off of it rather than be public servants.”

In 2023, lawmakers passed legislation outlawing campaign contributions from the red light camera industry and barring lawmakers from seeking employment across much of the industry within two years of leaving office.