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Speed limits on township dirt roads revisited



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August 24, 2011 - Brandon Twp.- Concerned for the safety of children, the school board has passed a resolution in support of reducing speed limits on dirt and gravel roads.

Approved 6-0 by the board during their Aug. 15 meeting (Board Trustee Kevin McClellan was absent), the resolution notes the school year is about to begin and many students will wait for buses beside dirt and gravel roads now posted at 45 and 55 miles per hour, or unposted and therefore 55 miles per hour. The resolution goes on to note that casualties have occurred within the student body since the transition to increased speed limits since 2006 legislation was enacted, "when slower speeds could have mitigated these tragedies."

Many residents along area gravel roads were angered to learn of a revised state law, enacted by the state legislature in March 2006, that increased the speed limit on roads previously posted at 25 mph to 55 mph—even in residential areas.

About 283 gravel road segments in Oakland County, including Brandon and Groveland townships, previously posted as 25 mph zones, were impacted by the change.

"The impetus for the board to make the resolution was to improve the safety for our kids who could be on those roads waiting for their buses," said Board President Luke Frye. "As a resident, people in general go too fast on dirt roads. You can hit gravel and lose control fairly easily. The law used to be max speed was 45, unless marked otherwise. Now it's up to 55. Even 45 is probably a little quick... Speeds need to be kept down so you have good reaction time. On gravel, cars don't stop so well."

Rep. Brad Jacobsen, who represents District 46, including Brandon and Groveland townships, has co-authored House Bill No. 4037, which encourages reduction of speed limits on dirt roads. The school board supports enactment of the bill (introduced in January) in their resolution, or passage of similar legislation that would allow local municipalities to set or reinstate their own speed limits on dirt and gravel roads "which reflect road conditions, topography, and traffic patterns which are known best by individuals residing in the locality instead of mandatory calculations."

"Ideally, I would like the local communities to set their own speed limits, based on the particulars of how many homes and traffic concerns in those areas," Jacobsen said. "Legislation amending the current speed limits has been introducted a number of times since the law was changed and has not gone far. The state police doesn't want it and a lot of the public doesn't want it. A lot of people like hitting the gas and bombing down those dirt roads."

Jacobsen notes, however that a gravel road that is good one day can be a washboard a few days later, on which vehicles may be hard to control.

Oakland County Sheriff's Office Sgt. Pete Burkett, Brandon substation commander, agrees the speed limit should be lowered, particularly because young, inexperienced drivers may feel they have to go the speed limit, even with adverse road conditions.

"Lower speed limits are safer, especially with lots of horses, runners, and kids walking on the roads," he said. "These are roads, but there are no sidewalks, and they get used as that, too. If we could get the speed limit down to 35, that would be great. Sometimes even 25 mph is too fast."

As a county commissioner, Jacobsen received a lot of complaints about higher speeds when the law first changed, from residents concerned about children waiting at bus stops, walking their dogs, or riding horses in rural areas. He has not received as many calls in recent years, because he believes people have become used to the fact it may not change. Previous legislation that would have once again reduced speeds on dirt roads was vetoed by former Gov. Jennifer Granholm. With a new governor and new legislators, Jacobsen is hopeful he can raise support to revisit the issue this fall.

For more information or to give opinions on the speed limits on dirt and gravel roads, call Jacobsen at 855-REP-BRAD.

Susan covers Brandon Township and Ortonville
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