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Survey will determine appropriate speed limit

Question between 35 and 25 mph for Old Stage lingering

The city of Morris will be doing an engineering study on Old Stage Road to decide whether the speed limit on the road should stay 25 mph or be changed back to 35 mph.

The committee approved spending $2,500 for the study through Chamlin & Associates engineering firm during its regular meeting Tuesday.

The speed limit has been 25 mph since the city council voted for the change in June.  The speed limit was 35 mph from 2003 to 2012; prior to 2003, it was 25 mph.

The change was brought forth by the committee after Hatcher's Woods resident Harry Benner went to the committee to ask for double yellow lines to be painted on the road to stop people from passing, said Benner Tuesday. He had safety concerns and, after discussion and research, the committee decided to change the limit. 

Committee member Alderman Randy Larson said the committee made this decision based on city ordinance that states residential streets in the city should have a speed limit of 25 mph, and based on research from the police department on accidents in the area and the time difference on trying to stop quickly at 35 mph rather than 25 mph.

Larson said a lot of thought and consideration was put into the committee's decision, but that he would be glad to look at the results of a study to reconsider the decision.

After the speed limit change, Hatcher's Woods resident Dave Hextell told the committee he felt the majority of the neighborhood did not want the reduction in the speed limit. The city later sent surveys to the Hatcher's Woods residents and residents directly on Old Stage Road. Of the 155 surveys sent out, 17 came back in favor of leaving the speed limit 25 mph, 79 wanted it back at 35, and 59 surveys were not sent back to the city.

Committee chairman Drew Muffler told the about 11 audience members it was discovered that when the city changed the speed limit in 2003 to 35 mph, a traffic study should have been done first, according to state statute. To change it back to 35 mph, a study would have to be done.

"I can deal with whatever speed limit out there, but you made a change all on your own and now we have to pay $2,500 (as taxpayers) to correct your mistake," said a female Hatcher's Woods resident at the meeting.

Muffler said he agreed with her, but that he was happy the committee was listening to the residents and looking further into the speed limit issue.

The study would include speed data gathered by the police department and collected in unmarked vehicles, as well as shoulder conditions, parking, pedestrian traffic, surrounding intersections and other data and considerations, said City Engineer Guy Christensen.

"I think $2,500 would be the max and there would be a written report with that," he said.

The study will be done in the spring. 

One of the people in the audience of the committee meeting questioned how accurate the police's data would be since people would be driving slower with police around. Mayor Richard Kopczick said that is why the police would be in unmarked cars.

They are not there to write tickets, they are there to observe, he said.

Muffler asked the Hatcher's Woods residents in attendance if they've seen a change in drivers on Old Stage Road with the speed change.

"There is never a lot of cars out there now. It's not constant traffic like (Illinois) 47 or (U.S.) 6," said Jan Wendling.

Hextell added that he walks the neighborhood daily and rarely sees children. Benner argued there are children at times people don't expect, and that people have to remember there are children on the school buses that are in and out of the neighborhood everyday.

"When you drive at 25 mph or 35 mph there is such little time difference," said Larson. "But if it can save one kid's life at 25 mph, I'd rather save a kid doing 25 mph than have a kid get hurt out there."

Hextell gave numerous reasons why Old Stage Road does not need to be 25 mph, including that it is not like other residential streets in the city that are narrow and surrounded by houses. He called Old Stage more of a country road.

"By keeping it at 25 mph, it makes speeders out of all of us," he said.

Benner said the area is only four blocks and, for increased safety, the slower speed is worth it.

"I'm not going to say it completely eliminated the problem, but it greatly reduced the amount of incidents we have out there," he said.

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