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Police: Don't ignore road closure or speed limit

Oxford Village Police Sgt. Mike Solwold is warning motorists that if they choose to ignore the road closed signs and drive through the W. Burdick St. construction zone, they're going to be cited for careless driving. The driver will be fined $205 and receive three points on their driving record. Photo by C.J. Carnacchio. (click for larger version)
June 25, 2014 - For those motorists who choose to blatantly disregard the W. Burdick St. closure and drive right through the construction zone, the Oxford Village Police have something very special waiting just for you – a ticket.

"We need to set an example here and let people know that this is dangerous," said Police Sgt. Mike Solwold. "You can't bypass a road closed sign and take that kind of chance."

The 1,691-foot stretch of W. Burdick St./Seymour Lake Rd. between Ashley Way in the village and S. Waterstone Dr. in the township has been closed since June 11 for a reconstruction project. It's expected to reopen on July 19.

"We've got motorists that are driving around the road closed sign," Solwold explained. "They're actually moving things (like construction barrels) to drive through there because it's a giant inconvenience for them. They're literally driving up and moving them."

"People are coming to us in droves, just complaining left and right about cars zipping through there," he added.

When the road first closed, Solwold sat by the sign and gave drivers directions for an alternate route. He's been directing people to take Pontiac Rd. to W. Drahner Rd., then cross back over to Seymour Lake Rd. using either Sanders or Coats roads.

"We're trying to keep them out of (the) Waterstone (development) by basically, taking them down the main roads," the sergeant said. "I know those folks over (in Waterstone) are probably getting irritated with all that traffic going through there, so we're trying not to give (drivers) that option."

The official detour route, as set up by the Road Commission for Oakland County, is Seymour Lake Rd. to Dunlap Rd. to M-24 and vice-versa.

Despite being given various detour options, some drivers are still determined to use W. Burdick St. and don't mind bypassing signs, barricades and even police officers to do so.

On Thursday, June 19, Solwold was sitting on W. Burdick St. in his patrol car when a motorist drove right by him.

"She proceeds to go past the road closed signs and is literally driving up the hill," he said. "Her vehicle is basically going up and down (as she drives over) these holes."

Solwold followed the driver and pulled her over. He explained to her that by ignoring the road closure, she could seriously damage her vehicle, get stuck or worst of all, interfere with the progress of the reconstruction project.

"It's just going to prolong (the workers') efforts and we definitely don't want to do that," Solwold said. "We want them to get done so people can get through there and everybody can be happy again."

Since warnings and attempts to educate drivers don't seem to be working, village police are now handing out citations.

"You're driving past a road closed sign, you're driving into a dangerous zone," Solwold said. "It's dangerous for yourself, for the workers, for the equipment . . . So, we've made a vow, from here on out, if we find anybody going through there, we're giving them a careless driving ticket."

The ticket penalizes motorists with a $205 fine and three points on their driving record.

"If you're bypassing a road closed sign, you're putting yourself in danger by going into a construction area where there's potentially workers or equipment or no road," Solwold said.

Solwold noted that "technically," driving through a road closure "could be considered reckless driving," which is a six-point violation and a misdemeanor.

There is a difference between reckless and careless driving. "Reckless is more of (an) intentional (thing). You're doing something boneheadish – (you) intended to act like this," Solwold explained. "Careless is kind of a step down from reckless."

Solwold noted village police are actually doing these motorists a favor by issuing them careless driving tickets as opposed to citations for recklessness.

"I really don't want to hit people with the reckless (ticket) right off the bat. We're trying to be real fair about it," he said. "We're trying to not be too harsh (with) them, but it is dangerous in there and we don't want them to ruin any progress that those (workers) have (made)."

The sergeant noted that if a driver has a "good record," he has "no problem with working something out with them" regarding the ticket.

Solwold said he understands some members of the public want village police to watch the road 24-7, but that's just not possible.

"We'll do the best we can," he said. "We can't sit down here all day."

Village police aren't the only ones keeping an eye on things in that area.

Oakland County Sheriff's Sgt. Scott Patterson, commander of the Oxford Township substation, said deputies have been doing what they can to reduce the speed of motorists who are using S. Waterstone Dr. and Market St. as an alternative route to reach to M-24.

"The speed limit is 25 (miles per hour)," he said. "If you're going to cut through there, just drive the speed limit and everything should be fine."

Patterson reported they've done everything from setting up a radar cart that displays drivers' speeds to deploying extra patrols. "I've been out there myself," he said."Last week, I sat out there for like an hour-and-a-half."

The sergeant indicated the main goal is to keep the area safe for pedestrians.

"There are a lot kids and a lot of families that ride their bikes through there," he said. "Until (the road) gets fixed, people are going to want to cut through there and we're just going to have to try to make it safe."

Speeding in this area of Waterstone is nothing new. Long before the W. Burdick St. closure, Patterson explained the sheriff's office had received complaints because some drivers were already using Waterstone as a cut-through.

"People have a tendency to want to drive fast through there," Patterson said.

When the W. Burdick St./Seymour Lake Rd. reconstruction project began, there was a sign up at S. Waterstone Dr. telling motorists it was closed to through-traffic.

That sign has since been removed and replaced with another one prohibiting truck traffic with the exception of local deliveries.

There were some rumors going around that when the original no-through-traffic sign was up, sheriff's deputies had been stopping motorists entering Waterstone and asking them to state their destination.

But Patterson insisted none of the officers from the Oxford substation were doing that.

"It is a public roadway," he said. "It is open and you can't stop people from going through there."

CJ Carnacchio is editor for The Oxford Leader. He lives in the Village of Oxford with his wife Connie and daughter Larissa. When he's not busy working on the newspaper, he enjoys cigars/pipes, Martinis/Scotch, hunting and fishing.
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