North Riverside officials quietly breathed a sigh of great relief at the end of July when Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed into law a bill that from all outward appearances was a routine update of, as the bill’s name itself stated, “Mandates-Various.”
Tucked away in that bill, however, was language worth millions of dollars to the village of North Riverside – language the village’s lobbyist took some credit for last week during a presentation at the village board’s regular business meeting on Aug. 14.
A 39-word paragraph in the midst of the roughly 20,000-word bill states that the Illinois Department of Transportation “shall authorize the reinstallation or use” of a red-light camera system removed due to road construction within 30 days of the project’s completion.
“If nothing had been done legislatively this year, that could have resulted in the permanent suspension of the village’s automated camera devices at that intersection,” lobbyist Chris Nybo told elected officials Aug. 14.
North Riverside is paying Nybo $48,000 for the 2023-24 fiscal year to serve as the village’s lobbyist in Springfield.
Nybo said that he “had a role in drafting” the legislation, which he said has “hopefully eliminated the problem that the village might have been facing at that intersection at Harlem and 22nd.”
Asked to elaborate on his role in drafting the red-camera retention language on behalf of North Riverside, Nybo declined to comment, directing the Landmark to North Riverside officials.
Mayor Joseph Mengoni told the Landmark that he had sought to gather a coalition of local governments that use red-light cameras to lobby Springfield for ensuring their survival, but he said Nybo had already had the ball rolling.
In recent years, IDOT’s practice had been to remove any red-light camera systems from any intersections undergoing reconstruction and then not allow them to be reinstalled after construction was complete.
That policy was going to be a problem for North Riverside, which has collected an average of about $1.7 million annually from red-light camera violations at the intersection of Harlem Avenue and Cermak Road, where the village operates two cameras.
Since 2014, when the Harlem/Cermak cameras went live, the village has collected about $16 million in fines from red-light violations, according to village financial documents.
While the four red-light cameras at Harlem and Cermak – Berwyn also operates two cameras there – are generally despised by motorists who must navigate that busy intersection, the money from violations is a critical source of funding for North Riverside’s police and fire pension obligations.
Mengoni said his main takeaway from the new law was that the state legislature saw the need to keep intersections like Harlem and Cermak safe – despite the vast majority of tickets issued for red-light violations involving rolling right-hand turns – but he also acknowledged the revenue aspect of the program.
“Of course, the revenue is there,” Mengoni said. “As a small village we need that revenue.”
IDOT is planning to reconstruct that intersection – the initial construction start date of 2022 now appears to be on track for spring of 2024 – and had informed North Riverside as far back as 2015 that once that work was complete IDOT would require the village to reapply to have the red-light cameras reinstalled.
The language mandating reinstallation of red-light cameras by IDOT after road construction is complete was added as a floor amendment in May by state Sen. Laura Murphy (D-28), the senate’s assistant majority leader.
While the bill ensures the survival of red-light cameras in North Riverside, it also included anti-corruption language that bans red-light camera companies and their employees from donating money to candidates running for local and state office.
It also bans any state, county or local official from accepting payment for services from any red-light camera company while they are in office and for two years after leaving office.
All of the state legislators representing Brookfield, Riverside and North Riverside voted in favor of the final bill, which Pritzker signed into law July 28.