Slower speeds could cost towns dearly

COPAKE—Municipalities that want the state to put a rush on requests to lower speed limits are going to have to pay thousands of dollars in traffic study costs themselves.

At the Town Board’s December 12 meeting, Copake Supervisor Jeff Nayer told board members about a state Department of Transportation (DOT) letter received by Columbia County Department of Public Works Engineering Division Director Dean Knox.

Mr. Knox made members of the Columbia County Board of Supervisor’s Public Works Committee, of which Mr. Nayer is a member, aware of the letter and a move by the state to have towns pay for something that the state used to handle.

The letter from DOT Transportation Analyst Gayle Sudder says that if a municipality wants a speed limit on a town or county road lowered, then that municipality “shall provide the NYSDOT with the necessary study data, using standard NYSDOT methodology. We will review the submission and return a decision to you after receipt of the study. The following information is required: the amount and type of development along the roadway; various roadway features and physical condition of the roadway; one or more speed studies; and a report and recommendation signed by a licensed Professional Engineer.”

“It’s going to cost us thousands of dollars to really look at it” every time the town asks for a speed limit reduction, Mr. Nayer told the board. “We’ll have to provide information about accidents… it’s going to become a costly thing and they’re making us pay for it.”

Mr. Knox told The Columbia Paper by phone this week, that the change in the way state DOT will now handle speed limit reduction requests “came out of the blue.”

Towns will now have to pay private consultants to do engineering studies, things that the “state has been doing for the past 50 or 60 years.”

Previously, when a town sought a speed limit reduction on a local road, the Town Board sent a formal request on to the local highway superintendent, who passed it on to the county to submit the request to the state.

Mr. Nayer noted that requests for a reduction to a specific speed, such as 25 or 30 mph, are usually never granted. Instead, the state decides on its own whether there will be a decrease and, if so, by how much.

Mr. Knox said the state has its own methodology for figuring out whether speed reductions are warranted and private engineering consultants will have to be educated in those methods. “They never tell you how much its going to cost, it’s another unfunded thing they pass on to the towns,” said Mr. Knox, who noted the state attempted to do the same thing with speed limit reduction requests about 10 years ago. The County Traffic Safety Board fought the new procedure back then and the state decided not to go forward with it. He said he brought the letter to the Public Works Committee in case its members want to fight it again.

Mr. Knox said he has two requests for speed limit reductions pending in Ghent and one in Canaan. He also said he was told to expect another letter from DOT on the speed limit subject soon with more information about it.

Public Works Committee Chairman Ron Knott (R-Stuyvesant), told The Columbia Paper that he has been gathering additional information about the change in procedure from many sources. He has learned that DOT is getting many speed limit reduction requests and is too “overburdened and understaffed” to handle them all and wants to shift some of the labor and cost back to the towns.

The state wants the towns “to have some skin in the game” so perhaps they will “think twice” before submitting these requests, said the Stuyvesant town supervisor.

Among those he has contacted about the issue are Assemblyman Chris Tague (R-102nd), the Associations of Highway Superintendents, Towns and Counties, which can be valuable “advocates for these kinds of things,” he said.

In his research, he learned the cost to towns for just one of these engineering studies could be $3,000 to $4,000. He said, it begs the question of whether the county should try to do these studies on behalf of all the towns, necessitating the need for a professional engineer on staff. He said he is hoping to have more information to bring to the committee in January.

Mr. Knott said he is still trying to determine if this new procedure pertains to all counties or just those in Region 8.

In a subsequent phone call, Mr. Knott reported that he had received a call from Assemblyman Tague relaying new information after speaking to someone at DOT.

“The letter should not have gone out,” said Mr. Knott. “The state will continue to do the traffic studies, but there will be a six-to-nine-month lag for a response.” Towns that want a quicker answer will need to get the studies done themselves, he said.

“The state does have to give its approval” for a speed limit reduction,” Mr. Knott said, adding, “It maintains oversight and authority.”

A phone call to the Regional Traffic and Safety Group, the place to call with questions about the matter according to the DOT letter, was not returned by press deadline.

To contact Diane Valden email

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