ALBANY — If the state legislature steps on the gas, local officials will now have the ability to hit the brakes when it comes to setting speed limits in their towns.
Current law requires most towns to petition the New York State Department of Transportation (DOT) to change speed limits, an arduous process that some officials say isn’t always responsive to the needs of the community.
Senator Betty Little, the official who sponsored the legislation that was unanimously approved by the state senate last week, called the bill a mandate relief measure.
“Towns in New York are required to jump through a hoop that villages, cities and some very large towns don’t have to, costing them time and money,” said Little in a written statement. “This would create a uniform policy treating all municipalities the same.”
Little representative Daniel Mac Entee said the legislation was first sponsored in 2003.
“The Association of Towns and Villages has long supported and advocated for this because the standards differ,” he said.
Towns that elect to set maximum speed limits would need to do so in accordance with engineering specifications and other factors. All changes would require certification by a licensed professional engineer specializing in traffic operations and would apply to town roads only — not state highways.
“It’d be open for officials to be responsive to the needs of their constituents,” said Tom Monroe, head of the Adirondack Park Local Government Review Board that pushed for the legislation. “It’s frustrating when residents complain and we can’t do anything without DOT cooperation.”
Moriah town supervisor Tom Scozzafava applauded the legislation.
“We’ve put in different requests to the DOT and they’ve been rejected,” he said. “Towns have never had this privilege and this is long overdue.”
Scozzafava said the 30 miles-per-hour limit in and around Grover Hills, the most heavily populated area in town with about 100 homes, is too fast for that area.
There are other stretches, too:
“We just had a traffic study on South Moriah Road and Edgemount Road,” he said. “We’re hoping to them lowered.
Traffic surveys conducted by the Sheriff’s Department monitoring average speed through that area will factor into the final decision, said Scozzafava.
Ticonderoga town supervisor Bill Grinnell called the legislation a “no brainer” and a step in the right direction.
“Who better knows what the rate of speed should be that local residents,” he said. “This probably should have been done years ago.”
Crown Point boss Charles Harrington said lower speed limits tend to benefit residents in the long run, citing recent efforts to lower the limit through the center of town from 40 to 30 and the stretch of Main Street in front of the school to 20.
“That’s taken a lot to get used to, but we’re all better off,” he said. “Trying to navigate that corner in the center of town, heading south, at 40 miles-per-hour, was very difficult. You’d really have to be at your best to accomplish that. We’ve come a long way.”
Despite the ostensible benefits, some feel as if taking the decision out of that hands of an impartial agency opens the process up to meddling by elected officials.
“The present form adequately takes the political aspect out of it,” said Curt Gregory, general foreman for the Essex County Highway Department.
“This could certainly be an issue in towns where officeholders don’t have the ability to make the right non-political decisions,” countered Grinnell. “It shouldn’t be an issue in Ticonderoga — we’ve got a board who can separate politics from the practical.”
Assemblywoman Addie Russell is co-sponsoring a companion bill in her chamber. If passed, it will be kicked up to Governor Andrew Cuomo and would take effect 180 days after becoming law.