Source: Sherman Publications

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Area gravel road speed limits debated
Lawmakers propose bill that would let communities decide limits

by David Fleet

January 04, 2012

Local governments may soon have the ability to lower speed limits on gravel roads.

At 7 p.m., Jan., 10, State Sen. Dave Robertson (R-Grand Blanc Township) and State Rep. Brad Jacobsen (R-Oxford) will host a town hall meeting at the Brandon Middle School, 609 S. Ortonville Road to discuss proposed legislation that would allow local governmental bodies to set or reinstate speed limits on gravel roads according to road conditions, topography, and traffic patterns which are known best by individuals residing in the locality instead of mandatory calculations.

Senate Bill 52 and companion House Bill 4037 was introduced on Jan. 13, 2011 by State Rep. Eileen Kowall (R-White Lake, Highland). Rep. Jacobsen (R-Oxford), and Hugh Crawford (R-Novi) co-sponsored the bill.

A revised state law, enacted by the state legislature in March 2006, increased the speed limit on roads previously posted at 25 mph to 55 mph—even in residential areas. Since then, area residents and local officials have had mixed reactions to the change.

The Michigan State Police had studied the rural road traffic issues which in part prompted the change six years ago.

"The speed limit does not dictate the travel speed—it's contrary to many people," said 1st Lt. Thad Peterson, Michigan State Police, traffic services commander, who will attend the public hearing. "We derive the speed limit from what people drive. The basic speed law on gravel roads is to drive at a speed that is safe."

Peterson said that some days the proper speed limit could be 15 mph when the roadway is rough and in need of being graded for example.

"Or it could be 55 mph when the road has been graded smooth and had chloride applied," he said.

"Local control works for a lot of things," he said. "But not speed limits. We don't all drive just in our community. We live in a mobile society—we need to keep the speed limits uniform from community to community."

"There's an inherent problem in human nature that people want a low speed limit in front of their house and they drive according to what they want to drive," he said. "Then when they receive a ticket they're mad. The speed limit is then not applicable to them. The key is not to perceive their road as safe. A lower speed conveys the road is safer than it truly is—that's a serious problem."

Peterson said that often residents are worried about their children and the roadway.

"Honestly, a roadway is just not safe—children should not be out there or even near a road."

The Groveland Township Board of Trustees took no action on the resolution to support House Bill 4037.

Bob DePalma, township supervisor, said studies have indicated that 85 percent of motorists will drive at a safe speed.

"I'm not sure how to validate a correct speed limit," he said. "Is the township in a position to have the right information to change the speed law? There would need to be some guidelines to follow. For that matter, would a change in the speed limit change anything on the more than 40 miles of dirt roads in the township?"

On Aug. 15, the Brandon Township School Board voted 6-0 (Trustee Kevin McClellan was absent) in favor of a resolution to lower the speed limits, noting the school year was about to begin and many students would 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 went on to note that casualties have occurred within the student body since the transition to increased speed limits, "when slower speeds could have mitigated these tragedies."

"Many residents have expressed concern over the speed limits on gravel roads," said Kathy Thurman, Brandon Township supervisor. "We would support House Bill 4037."

In October, the Atlas Township Board of Trustees voted 4-1 to support a resolution for House Bill 4037. Trustee Berry June voted no.

"If you live on a gravel road, there's a need for the local control," said Atlas Township Supervisor Shirley Kautman-Jones. "Use some logic when setting the speeds—I'm not suggesting piecemeal. As it is, people are driving 70 miles per hour down those roads. Also, I don't think the people in Lansing should make a decision on speeds in our communities. We understand the general characteristics."