Speed limit enforcement request indicative of ever-growing, countywide issue

July 7, 2018

LAWRENCE COUNTY — In 2013, the Lawrence County Sheriff’s Office answered 40 calls for what they categorize as “community policing.” In 2017, that number grew to 766. Thus far this year, the sheriff’s department has answered 1,072 of these types of calls. A request made on behalf of the Terry Peak Road District at the June 26 county commission meeting illustrates this burgeoning issue.

Mike Hale of the Terry Valley Road District and Roger Tellinghuisen, attorney for the road district, were present to discuss speed limit enforcement within the road district and their concern with traffic safety. A resolution was presented to the commission by the road district, setting a speed limit of 15 mph on all roads in the district.

Tellinghuisen explained that while the road district’s board has properly adopted the 15 mph speed limit, the resolution was presented as a formality for the county to endorse the road district’s action, per state statute 32-25-9.1, which reads: “any board of county commissioners may determine and establish speed zones upon streets and highways on the request of and after any other local authority having charge of the maintenance of the highway has declared its intention to post speed zones.”

“It has nothing to do with the county taking on maintenance,” Tellinghuisen said. “They’ve had a problem with people driving too fast in the subdivision out there.”

Hale and Tellinghuisen mentioned the possibility of hiring off-duty sheriff’s deputies to enforce the speed limit at Terry Valley’s expense.

Hale said the 15-mph speed limit has been posted for quite some time.

“They’re running up to 50 mph on the straightaways,” Hale said. “Because of the risk to children and the number of complaints we receive, we’re looking to take this step, then seek this type of help from the sheriff’s department at our cost … we feel like we have to do it because of our liability issue … something more formal.”

Commissioner Randy Deibert asked if a 15-mph speed limit is realistic on all those roads, from an enforcement standpoint, or if 20 or 25 mph would be more appropriate.

Deibert also expressed concern that if the resolution is ratified and the road district would dissolve, the county would not be forced to assume any road maintenance in the district.

It was suggested that the main cause of the excessive vehicle speed is that the property owners have guests who have less regard for the safety of area residents and especially children at play.

Sheriff Brian Dean was present and noted that the area is patrolled; however, he added that the issues in the Terry Valley Road District are illustrative of issues he has observed countywide with the popularity of ATVs.

Dean said the road district is asking for services the sheriff’s department provides anyway and that the department will do its best to step up and do what needs to be done. In light of this type of situation occurring countywide and an ever-increasing amount of these types of calls, he has addressed the issue in his 2019 budget.

“This is a scenario we see more and more, as the area becomes a playground for many people who come to visit,” Dean said. “This is a growing problem in the county.”

Dean said that speed tests by way of a speed trailer have been conducted in the Terry Valley Road District area, that 77.5 percent of people are driving the roads at or below the posted speed limit, and that he doesn’t feel that 15 mph is unreasonable.

Dean then shared community policing numbers, which are growing at an astronomical rate.

“We’re doing everything we can. We need to do more,” Dean said. “This is a problem we’re seeing from one end of the county to the other.”

The commission moved to ratify the Terry Valley Road District resolution establishing a 15 mph speed limit on roads throughout the district, but specified that in so doing, the county is not exercising any supervision or control over the roads within the district and that the county does not intend to undertake maintenance, supervision or control over any roads within the road district.

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