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Speed Limit Bill Seen As Mandate Relief

Wikimedia Commons/Ildar Sagdejev

A bill passed by the New York State Senate would allow towns more freedom in controlling the speed limit on roadways. 

The legislation passed by the state Senate Tuesday would allow towns in New York with populations of 50,000 or less to set the speed limit within their jurisdictions. Under current law, towns are required to petition the New York State Department of Transportation in order to change a speed limit – a process that can take a considerable amount of time.

However, villages, cities, and several larger communities are exempt from having to petition.

The bill was sponsored by Republican Senator Betty Little of Queensbury, who said current law is antiquated and sees the legislation as a form of mandate relief.

“I think in the old days this was thought that the towns may be setting up speed traps kind of thing, but that’s not the case anymore and I think this is a good mandate relief for our towns,” said Little.

Little said towns would still have to take steps to prove the necessity of a speed change.

“In order to lower the speed limit the town would be required to certify and justify the lower speed limit by having an engineer who specializes in traffic operations to show that it’s necessary to do it, and they would have to make notices and that sort of thing, but it would be better than the process they have now,” said Little.

The New York State Association of Towns has shown its support for the bill. Executive Director Gerry Geist…

“One of our concerns was that ‘Well, if everyone else can’t we do it?’” said Geist. “And we just wanted to have the same rights and privileges as other forms of local government.”

Geist said the current law can cause headaches for neighboring communities with different classifications that share a roadway. Towns often try to lower speed limits near community centers.

“It happens often a lot around streets that are near school districts…to try and keep people’s speed down,” said Geist.

Fran Gotcsik, Director of Programs and Policy at Parks and Trails New York, said her organization is in support of the bill because it would allow rural communities to control speed limits on roadways that connect hiking and other recreational trails.

“So if we can make some of those local roads safer by allowing communities to have control over their local speed limits and be able to reduce them more easily, then that would be a win-win for everyone,” said Gotcsik.

As Assembly version of the bill is sponsored by Democrat Addie Russell of Watertown. Senator Little said she’s hopeful the bill will pass through the legislature at a time when more local governments are calling on the state for mandate relief.

Lucas Willard is a reporter and host at WAMC Northeast Public Radio, which he joined in 2011.