Concerns continue to mount over speeds in Unionville village, but state law limits options
By Mike McGann, Editor, The Times
EAST MARLBOROUGH — Driver speed and some questions about paving in the Unionville Village section of the township dominated Monday night’s Board of Supervisors meeting.
Although residents brought complaints about paving near the intersection of Rt. 162 and Rt. 82 as well as chip and stone used on William Thomas Drive, most of the discussion was focused on renewed concerns about drivers speeding along Routes 82, 162 and 842 in the township, and that hazard it represents to residents of the immediate area.
Currently, the posted speed limit on Rt. 82 in the village is 35 MPH, while the speed limit on the other two roadways varies but is as high as 45 MPH.
Residents asked the board of Supervisors to renew efforts to lower the speed limits on the roadway.
Although the township owns the roadway, it remains a state route and is subject to the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT) regulation. As such, it is problematic for the township to change the speed limit, without a study showing drivers are already going slower than the speed limit, something of a Catch-22 situation, which they acknowledge.
Technically, the township could lower the speed limit, but any tickets issued for speeding could be challenged in court and thrown out as being invalid — for failing to meet state criteria. The state legislation governing the laws was intended to prevent municipalities from creating revenue enhancing “speed traps” — a common issue in the 1970s.
A spring speed survey suggested that the average speed in the area was in the neighborhood of 38 MPH, but a second study is expected this fall.
“I’m not saying it’s a good standard,” Supervisors board chair Cuyler Walker said. “But it is the legal standard.”
Jack Greenwood, a resident of the village who has been vocal about the speed of vehicles and previously stated concerns about the damage done to the roadway by heavy truck use, suggested that instead of changing the speed limit, the township explore other options for “traffic calming” such as raised crosswalks. Township Manager Jane Laslo said that local municipalities have been going away from raised crosswalks because of liability concerns, caused by damage to vehicles.
Township Supervisor Richard “Buzz” Hannum, also a resident of the Unionville Village area, said he agreed that speed is a problem and that he himself has had concerns while out walking with his young children.
Other residents noted the frequent failure of motorists to yield to pedestrians at the crosswalk between Hood’s and the Unionville Recreation Association fields, even, apparently, a State Police trooper. Residents at the meeting said the trooper not only failed to yield, but then allegedly verbally upbraided the pedestrian, allegedly Douglas Mooberry, the chair of the township’s Historic & Architectural Review Board, when he complained about it. Mooberry could not be reached to confirm the story as of press time.
A freestanding sign that had been placed in the crosswalk when sporting events are taking place at the URA complex was damaged by being hit repeatedly by drivers and is in need of replacement, residents said. They also suggested that signs are needed north and south of the complex, as motorists are not even aware of it until they are top of it.
Mary Beth Brown, owner of Catherine’s Restaurant as well as a resident of the immediate area, said she contacted the office of State Rep. Chris Ross seeking help with the matter, but received no response. Brown said she was rear-ended while driving her children to Unionville Elementary — she was stopped to make a left turn into the school when another motorist sped up behind her and hit her car so hard it was totalled.
Township officials acknowledge the issue but note two issues: the difficulty in getting state officials to work with them to make the road safer and the fiscal limits the township has in making the roadway safer.
Laslo noted how many years and attempts it took to get the four-way stop signs approved for the intersection of Routes 162 and 82 and that the township has been trying to get the speed limit lowered from 45 MPH in front of Unionville High School and Charles S. Patton Middle School for four decades. Ironically, she noted, that PennDOT agreed to lower the speed limit to 40 on Route 82 south of Route 926, but wouldn’t budge on the stretch north, between Route 926 and the roundabout.
There isn’t money to fund stricter enforcement of speed limits, as the township’s small police department — a total of two officers — must cover the entire township. And even assuming that PennDOT approved changes beyond speed limits, the cost of major improvements to the road exceeds what the township has to spend right now.
Township officials — along with the township’s Safety Committee, which was recently reactivated — said they hoped to engage PennDOT officials in discussions on how they could make the entire crossroads area where Routes 82, 162 and 842 meet safer for both pedestrians and drivers.