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Hilltown Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, September 15, 2011

Town board ambivalent
Petitioners ask for reduced speed limit in South Westerlo

By Zach Simeone

WESTERLO — The town board is looking into reducing the speed limit in South Westerlo, after a petition circulated in the hamlet showed that 54 residents favored the reduction.

The petition reads that the undersigned residents, “living near or on the roads of County Routes 401, 403, 405, and Creamery Road, request the reduction of the posted speed limits on said roads from 40 miles per hour to 35 miles per hour.”

At a town board meeting last week, Councilman Jack Milner presented this petition to the board, saying that 54 of the 56 residents he approached had signed. A faxed copy of the petition lists 54 signatures from residents of the roads listed at the top of the petition.

Following a public discussion at the Sept. 6 meeting, the four board members present voted to send the petition to the county and state transportation departments, the latter of which would decide on the limit. Councilman Edward Rash was absent from the meeting.

Carol Breen, a spokeswoman for the New York State Department of Transportation, said Wednesday, “We will conduct a new safety study and thoroughly review the current conditions before responding to the town. It usually takes a few months before we have a decision.”

Breen went on to say that, in January 2002, the DOT received a similar request from the town. The DOT observed the speed at which drivers traveled Route 401, between routes 405 and 406, where the speed limit is 40 miles per hour, Breen told The Enterprise. The town had requested a reduction to 30 miles per hour, which the DOT then denied.

“As part of our study, we took radar measurements of traffic speeds within the hamlet at two locations on separate days,” said Breen. “We found that 85 percent of traffic was traveling at or less than 46 miles per hour at each location. In our denial, we recommended that the town consider enforcing the existing speed limit rather than a further reduction of the speed limit, based on the violation of the 40 mile-per-hour speed zone we observed.”

Breen concluded, “The truth is that motorists are going to drive at whatever speed they feel is prudent and safe, no matter what the speed limit is. We post speed limits that are safe and appropriate. Traveling over that posted speed limit is a matter for law enforcement to address.”

The Discussion

The town board discussed this issue with town residents at last week’s town board meeting.

“We receive letters a lot of times from residents in the town, asking for us to change speed limits on a road,” said Councilman R. Gregory Zeh at the meeting. “The ordinary practice for the town board is to receive the letter from someone requesting the reduction of a speed limit, and we send it along to the department of transportation for them to look at, and make an assessment to determine what the speed limit should be on that road. Our town’s not large enough that we’re able to make a decision on a road’s speed limit on our own.”

Holly and Berte Tobin, residents of the hamlet and owners of the new VanWinkle Inn, spoke in support of Milner’s petition.

“Trust me when I tell you, it needs to be reduced,” Holly Tobin told the board. “People doing 60 to 70 miles an hour down through 405, screeching wheels on 401. It’s a miracle that a child or an animal hasn’t been injured. We’ve all been asking for this, and we’re pushing for it.”

She thinks that police should be posted in the hamlet to observe the speeding, she said. The town does not have its own police force, but is patrolled by the Albany County Sheriff’s Department.

“We have kids that play next door at the parish; the late bus gets there, they drop these kids off, and these kids are walking along the road,” Holly Tobin went on. “I swear to God, these people come down the hill, and they gun it.”

Berte Tobin made reference to the town of Bethlehem, “Which we all know we drive through very, very carefully, because you’ll receive a ticket very, very quickly,” he said. “You don’t have 45-mile-an-hour speed limits through the middle of that town. I can attest to that personally.” Bethlehem, unlike Westerlo, has its own police force.

Kristen Slaver, a former town board and planning board member, replied, “It sounds as if it’s more of a law-enforcement issue. If they’re going 50 to 60 miles an hour, reducing it to 35 isn’t going to make any difference. They’re still going to speed.”

Town Clerk Gertrude Smith and Kim Slingerland, clerk to the supervisor, mentioned the town’s attempt in 2002 to reduce the speed limit in South Westerlo, and said that the DOT had not provided an explanation for declining the town’s request.

Berte Tobin replied, “I certainly don’t think that their not saying why is something that this board should accept as a reason not to act on something like this. If anything, your voices should be raised louder.”

Zeh reminded Tobin that the board has not decided that it will not act.

“If there’s going to be a petition, it should be sent around the entire town,” Slaver added, “not just the hamlet.”

“It wouldn’t take you 30 seconds longer to get through town, from going 35 to 40,” Milner said. “What’s 30 seconds? Everybody ought to have an extra 30 seconds to go a little slower.”

Other business

In other business at its Sept. 6 meeting, the town board:

— Announced that it would be meeting this morning, Thursday, Sept. 15, with Marshall and Sterling insurance to discuss the possibility of extending Councilman Robert Snyder and Clerk Smith’s health insurance coverage, which is paid for by the town, after their upcoming retirements; and

— Appointed Robert Wilcox and Laura Tenney to the library board.

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