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Ortt, Hawley tout proposal for local control for setting speed limits by schools

Photos by Tom Rivers: The speed limit by the Kendall Junior-Senior High School on Route 18 is 50 miles per hour. Kendall school and community leaders would like that speed limit reduced in the school zone. This photo was taken west of the school entrance.

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 31 October 2017 at 9:36 pm

‘It’s just unbelievable that a school zone would have a speed limit of 50 miles per hour.’ – State Sen. Robert Ortt

Local officials discuss their desire to have the speed limit reduced by the school. Pictured from left include: Town Supervisor Tony Cammarata, County Legislature Chairman John DeFilipps, State Sen. Rob Ortt, Assemblyman Steve Hawley, County Legislator Ken DeRoller, and Nadine Hanlon, president of the Board of Education.

KENDALL – A community-wide push to lower the speed limit in front of Kendall Junior-Senior High School has included 858 letters of support, and official government resolutions at the town, school and county level.

But the decision ultimately lies with the state Department of Transportation because Route 18 by the school is a state road. The DOT has declined to lower the speed limit. The state agency recently notified town and school officials that flashing beacons would be the best way to improve safety of the road by the school.

Kendall Central School has purchased the flashing beacons and district superintendent Julie Christensen said the Town of Kendall Highway Department has offered to help install them.

The school and town believe the speed limit should be reduced from the 50 miles per hour in front of the school. State Sen. Robert Ortt in pushing legislation that would give the county shared authority with the DOT in setting speed limits in school zones. That legislation has 13 co-sponsors in the Assembly, including Assemblyman Steve Hawley, R-Batavia. They held a news conference at the school today.

“This should be a common sense thing,” Ortt said. “It’s just unbelievable that a school zone would have a speed limit of 50 miles per hour.”

A school zone tends to have clusters of traffic in the morning and afternoon, and oftentimes there are new student drivers pulling in and out of the entrance. Kids also are walking by or across the busy spot with traffic going 50 miles per hour or more. The situation at Kendall “is inviting disaster to happen,” Ortt said.

Hawley said many rural districts are located on state roads. City and suburban districts are often on city streets, or town and village streets where local officials can set the speed limits.

Hawley thanked Ortt for backing the legislation. Hawley said he and other Assembly members have been trying to push the legislation for a decade. There wasn’t someone in the Senate to lead the cause until Ortt backed it. The state senator from North Tonawanda said Starpoint faces a similar problem with a high speed limit by its school.

“This would allow those of us who live here to take care of ourselves,” Hawley said about the speed limit proposal.

Here is how Route 18 looks just east of the school entrance. This is looking back west today at about 11:30 a.m. There is a dip in the road near the entrance of the school.

The assemblyman said Kendall faces added pressure on Route 18 because of the deteriorating condition of the Lake Ontario State Parkway, which pushes more traffic on 18. A new Dollar General will also soon be opening in Kendall on Route 18, bringing more cars and trucks by the school.

Kendall school officials say there are a few fender benders by the school most years. Sometimes there are fatalities. Nadine Hanlon, the Board of Education president, recalled Kendall losing a student in a fatal accident at the intersection in the 1980s. That accident “devastated the community,” she said.

“Even the students know it is too fast here,” Hanlon said. She said many of the petitions were signed by students.

The road also has a dip by the entrance leading to the school, adding to Hanlon’s worry about the safety.

John DeFilipps, chairman of the Orleans County Legislature, supports the proposal from Ortt and Hawley, saying there should be more “home rule” for local communities.

Nadine Hanlon, president of the Kendall Board of Education, was a student in the 1980s when a student was killed in front of the school in a car accident. She said she worries about student safety with the speed limit at 50 miles per hour.

Ken DeRoller, a county legislator from Kendall, was on the Planning Board for the town about two decades ago when the community was successful getting the DOT to reduce the speed limit by the school from 55 to 50 miles per hour.

Tony Cammarata, the Kendall town supervisor, said he “totally supports” the legislation giving locals shared authority with the DOT in setting speed limits in school zones.

“I can’t understand why any elected official would not support this legislation,” Cammarata said.

Ortt and Hawley have sponsored various pieces of state legislation to lower speed limits within their district, but expressed frustration with the unnecessary length and difficulty of the current process.

Ortt and Hawley said they are hopeful the legislation could pass next spring and take effect in time for next school year.

“It’s a state-wide issue that has repercussions throughout New York,” Hawley said.

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