In wake of lawsuit, council weighs speed limit reiteration

In wake of lawsuit, council weighs speed limit reiteration

U.S. 250 Bypass


A recent study found that special conditions make the 35-mph zone of the bypass appropriate.

By: Megan Davis | News Virginian
Published: April 22, 2012

As six defendants appealing tickets for speeding on the U.S. 250 Bypass await their day in court, the Charlottesville City Council is considering an ordinance that reiterates the speed limits posted on that stretch of road.

The council requested an engineering study of the bypass be completed to determine whether the posted speed limits are appropriate.

The council’s decision was prompted by complaints from the defendants, all cited for driving 50 to 54 mph in a 35-mph zone in the 300 to 600 blocks of the bypass between October 2010 and April 2011, said City Councilor Kristin Szakos.

“It felt like a good idea to make sure we have a current study and make sure we can continue to justify the speed limits,” she said.

Traffic data collected as part of the engineering study conducted by Maryland-based Rummel, Klepper & Kahl showed the 85th percentile speeds at four points in the 35-mph zone of the bypass is between 46 and 50 mph.

The 85th percentile speed, which represents the speed at or below which 85 percent of drivers are traveling in free-flowing traffic, is often used to determine speed limits, according to the study.

“Repeated research on speed limits consistently shows that the most appropriate, safe and enforceable speed limit will be within 5 mph of the 85th percentile speed,” the study reads.

Still, special conditions, such as adjacent residential neighborhoods, school zones and parks, should also be considered, the study said.

The study concluded that such special conditions make the 35-mph zone of the bypass appropriate.

Special conditions justifying a 35-mph speed limit cited in the study include insufficient acceleration and deceleration lanes at a number of points, including McIntire Park, Park Street and Locust Avenue.

Other factors cited include residential development along the bypass and the EMS station near the Rugby Avenue interchange.

Both Mayor Satyendra Huja and Szakos agreed with the study’s findings.

“There are really compelling reasons to have the speed limit be lower in certain sections,” Szakos said.

Councilor Dave Norris said that in some sections of the 35-mph zone, “it just doesn’t seem, personally, to be an appropriate limit.”

He suggested the limit on the portion between McIntire Road and the EMS station be revisited.
“I was definitely in the minority,” he said. “I think, in general, the study shows that the bypass is appropriately marked.”

Norris said the city will likely complete another engineering study to determine appropriate speeds on the bypass after the city’s portion of the Meadow Creek Parkway opens.

A week ago the council held a first reading on an ordinance clarifying the speed limits based on the study’s findings.

The council plans to hold a second reading and vote on the ordinance at its May 7 meeting.

Judge Edward L. Hogshire recently denied motions to dismiss the charges against the defendants — Michael J. Tocci, Marcela T. Liguria, John Francis Valosky, Bonnie E. Baird, John E. Curry IV and Turner Barringer.

The six said their due process rights were violated because the city has not shown a copy of the traffic and engineering study required to legally apply a 35-mph speed limit on that section of the bypass.

In Virginia, the maximum speed limit for limited-access highways such as the bypass is generally 55 mph, and a traffic and engineering study is required to lower the maximum speed limit.

Minutes from a July 3, 1967, Charlottesville City Council meeting refer to such a traffic study being completed. The council adopted an ordinance a month later, lowering the speed limit for a portion of the bypass. The actual study, though, could not be located.

The defendants argued the city must produce a copy of the traffic study to prove it was completed before the speed limit was changed.

A trial for the six defendants is set for 8:30 a.m. Aug. 3 in Charlottesville Circuit Court.

Lawyers for the defendants declined to comment for this story.


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