45 is the new 55

Published 9:53 pm Monday, December 23, 2013

Thirty days after the city moved to steady up motorists on a main artery through Suffolk, the police chief says there’s no more speeding on Route 17 than other roads.

But some motorists are unconvinced that lowering 55 mile-per-hour sections to 45 was warranted.

Suffolk police issued 19 speeding citations in the first 30 days, only a slight rise from 16 dealt in the 30 days prior to the Nov. 15 change, according to public records.

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Meanwhile, 213 citations for speeding on the road from the start of the year through Nov. 14 average out at just over 20 per month for 2013 so far.

Asked whether he thought motorists were obeying the new speed limit, Chief Thomas Bennett said, “It would appear they are, based on those numbers.”

Responding to anecdotes of drivers exceeding the slower speed, he said, “That’s applicable to every road in this city.”

Bennett said police have not stepped up patrols on Route 17 since the change. “We haven’t treated it any different (to other roads). If we see them (speeding), we ticket them,” he said.

A speed study by the Department of Public Works’ traffic engineering division prior to the change found the average daily traffic volume over Bennett’s Creek Bridge, then posted at 55 mph, was 23,086 vehicles, and they travelled at an average of 52.2 mph.

Also within another previous 55-mph zone, the average daily volume on Godwin Bridge was 19,356 vehicles. Speed data was not collected there because of the effects on driving habits of an ongoing bridge resurfacing project, the study says.

Officials concluded that a large development recently completed at Governor’s Point, and another under construction at Bennett’s Creek, “add more turning movements and potential conflicts, increasing the potential for severe crashes within the corridor.”

Suffolk Police reported 111 crashes on Route 17 inside city limits between July 1, 2012 and June 30, 2013, resulting in 60 injuries and one death, according to the study.

“With increasing development within the remaining 55-mph speed zones, safety along the corridor should be improved both because of the lower speed limits with the two existing 55-mph speed zones, but also throughout the entire corridor, as the consistent speed limit will remove fluctuations in driver speeds,” the study stated.

At a shopping center along Route 17 this week, Joseph Moran, 19, said fellow motorists were not lowering their speed to the new posted limits.

“Everybody still goes about the same as it was beforehand,” he said. “I feel like the road was fine at 55; there wasn’t really a ton of wrecks or anything.”

Ernest Sessoms, 62, said he was unaware the speed limit had changed. “I go 55 not realizing it’s 45,” he said, adding he’s “going with the flow of traffic.”

Joe Craig, 25, also said the change “hasn’t slowed anybody down,” adding, “It’s been 55 as long as I’ve lived here, and I haven’t seen very many accidents.”