Speed limits loosen on some Cass County roads

Published 11:17 pm Monday, August 13, 2012

Daily News photo/KATIE ROHMAN The 25 miles-per-hour speed limit signs have been removed from some Cass County residential areas like Garrett Road in Silver Creek Township because the law enforcing them no longer exists. Residents are concerned because the speed limit defaults to 55 mph.

SILVER CREEK TOWNSHIP — Residents are up in arms over action taken to keep Cass County complying with a law that no longer exists.

More than 70 people filled the Silver Creek Township Hall Monday night to hear Sgt. Jim Campbell with the Michigan State Police (MSP) explain why the county road commission removed more than 140 25 miles-per-hour speed limit signs in residential areas. Those roads now default to the 55 mph speed limit.

The township neighborhood watch program hosted the meeting, where county officials, Rep. Matt Lori and a representative from Sen. Proos’ office were also on hand to answer citizens’ questions.

Legislation to Michigan’s motor vehicle code in 2006 changed the way speed limits are set, making the 25 mph signs invalid because the limits were set across the board in residential areas.

Prior to 2006, a residential district was a territory contiguous to a highway and not comprising a business district when the frontage on a highway was 300 feet or more and mostly occupied by homes and businesses located in houses.

The legislation’s wording was “vague,” said Campbell, who admitted some legislators who changed it might not have known why they made the change.

“I’m not the bad guy,” Campbell clarified for the crowd. “It’s not setting traffic limits; it’s setting traffic issues. We don’t make any money off traffic tickets.”

The MSP — namely Campbell — will conduct speed studies in the areas that no longer have speed limit signs. He will conduct the studies in an unmarked car during the week, when traffic is at ideal conditions.

The MSP will not determine the speed limits. They will be set partially based on an “85th percentile” study. The average speed of motorists, plus 5 mph over, is the 85th percentile of drivers.

Research has shown this to be the safest speed — not “artificially” high or low.

In addition to the “85th percentile” data, the MSP will analyze crash numbers, roadside environment and roadway configuration during the study.

Some residents claim the higher the speed limit is set, the faster people will drive.

“You sound like you’re in la-la land,” one resident accused Campbell. “I don’t care what you set it (the speed limit) at.”

“I’m getting rid of artificial speed limits,” Campbell said.

“I’m getting rid of speed traps. I want the safest road in front of your house that I can make.”

Campbell said Van Buren, Berrien and St. Joseph counties have changed their signs, “but your county just kind of missed.”

Lori, R-Constantine, a former St. Joseph County sheriff, said he agrees with the “85th percentile” data, and agreed Cass County “is doing a little catch-up.”

The speed limit signs have been removed from notable areas such as North Shore Drive on Eagle Lake in Ontwa Township and Garrett Road on Dewey Lake in Silver Creek Township — two curvy lakeside roads with high numbers of seasonal traffic and pedestrians. Garret is also a pass-through for tractors, which cause traffic congestion and dangerous driving among motorists.

Residents repeatedly expressed concern that removal of the signs will cause motorists to drive faster, subsequently causing crashes.

“Have you had any crashes?” Campbell asked.

No one could confirm any crashes have been reported since the sign removal.

Campbell said many factors contribute to accidents, and it’s not usually driving 10 mph over the speed limit. Drunken driving, texting and talking on cell phones as well as erratic driving — speeding at 90 mph in a 55 mph zone or passing vehicles in no-passing zones, for example — are more likely circumstances. He also encouraged residents to teach children not to run out on the roads and to take safety precautions, such as wearing reflective clothing, when walking.

Christopher Bolt, interim manager for Cass and St. Joseph county road commissions, said the issues are the same in all places when determining proper speed limits.

“I’ve worked in small cities, large cities, villages … the principles are the same,” Bolt said.
Campbell — after several inquiries — could not confirm how long a speed study will take. He is the only official conducting the studies, and his jurisdiction includes nine counties.

The township, if desired, has the right to submit a petition to the MSP to conduct a speed study in a specific area; however, the township must abide by the new set speed limit — no matter how high or low it is.

To contact Sgt. Jim Campbell about the speed limit changes, email him at campbellj18@michigan.gov. Contact Christopher Bolt at cbolt@casscoroad.com.