EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

November 26, 2012

Selectmen set 25 mph speed limit

Police say it goes against state law; it's unenforceable

By John Toole

---- — WINDHAM — Selectmen are posting 25-mph speed limits on two newly accepted sections of town roadway, despite the prospect police will never issue tickets there.

The board split, 3-2, on the decision last week affecting an 1,800-foot section of Gov. Dinsmore Road and all of Burnham Road.

Selectmen’s Chairman Bruce Breton joined Selectmen Roger Hohenberger and Phil LoChiatto in voting for the 25-mph limit. Selectmen Ross McLeod and Kathleen DiFruscia, both attorneys, were opposed.

The decision came after police prosecutor Heather Newell told selectmen the state calls for a 30-mph limit on urban roads, 35 mph on rural roads. Those speed limits only can be lowered by supporting traffic studies that consider factors such as accidents and motor vehicle safety issues, she said.

Newell has an obligation to prosecute cases only when they fit with state law.

“It’s not enforceable,” she said. “That’s the bottom line.”

Newell has worked in other towns that have dealt with this issue before and knows what happens.

“As soon as one person in town learns that issue, it spreads like wildfire,” she warned. “Then every ticket you’ve written gets dumped.”

She advised selectmen that trying to enforce tickets in that situation isn’t worth the time or expense for police or the courts, though she conceded the posted speed limit might deter some speeders.

Hohenberger proposed the lower limit, which Breton and LoChiatto supported.

McLeod questioned whether it made sense.

“So are we going to, like, just fly in the face of state statute and pick our own speed limit so we feel good?” McLeod asked.

He said selectmen need to follow the law.

“It’s not for us to rewrite the laws on a whim,” he said.

Hohenberger disputed the interpretation the town must first conduct a traffic study, arguing these are new roadways so selectmen aren’t changing, but establishing, the speed limit.

The “speed limit was never set yet to date,” Hohenberger said.

McLeod countered that the speed limit, prior to formal acceptance of the roadway, has been enforced by default at 30 mph.

Hohenberger said he will support the 25 mph limit until he is shown information that conclusively bars selectmen from imposing it.

Breton agrees with Hohenberger’s position. He said yesterday the argument has come up before. He estimates 10 to 12 sections of town roads now have 25-mph speed limits posted.

McLeod told the board only one traffic study related to speed has been done on London Bridge Road.

Breton stood by his decision.

“The 25-mph limit may save a life,” he said.

Asked whether police will enforce the limit approved by selectmen, Chief Gerald Lewis said the department can’t.

“As the board of selectmen have been advised, we cannot as the reduced speed limit does not meet the requirements (of state law),” Lewis said.

In addition, knowing the reduced limit doesn’t meet requirements of state law, the prosecutor can’t bring such a case to court, he said.