Don’t blink, you might miss it

ROGERS – A recent traffic study confirmed what village officials have long known: A large majority of motorists are speeding through their policeless town, many in excess of 70 mph.

“I know we had a lot of traffic, but this is amazing,” said Village Councilwoman Marilyn Locke, speaking at this week’s meeting.

Locke was referring to the results of a study performed by Optotraffic LLC, the company council is considering hiring to install traffic cameras to catch speeding motorists. In preparation for entering into such a contract, Optotraffic installed cameras last month to determine the extent of the problem, with the results released at the council meeting.

Optotraffic installed speed monitoring equipment on the two major roads that bisect Rogers – state Route 7 and state Route 154 which intersect at the lone traffic light in the middle of town.

Route 7 was monitored from April 6-15, and of the 44,927 vehicles that passed through during that period, 38,092, or nearly 85 percent, were traveling in excess of the marked 35 mph limit. Of those motorists who were speeding, 12,850 (34 percent) were traveling in excess of 50 mph, and 77 were clocked driving 70-plus mph.

Route 154 was monitored from April 6-13, and of the 15,929 motorists that drove through during that period, 11,626 (73 percent) were driving in excess of the 35 mph limit. Of those speeding, only 1,503 (13 percent) were going faster than 50 mph. Seventeen zoomed through Rogers at 70 mph or more.

Council indicated if they were to follow through with the traffic cam plan they would likely set the threshold for issuing speeding tickets at about 10-12 mph over the limit.

Council then began discussing whether it should proceed with adopting the ordinance prepared by Optotraffic, which would give the village legal authorization for the company to cite motorists once a contract has been approved and the camera system is in place.

After some discussion, council opted to hold off until they can find an attorney to review the proposed ordinance and contract, per the recommendation of Fiscal Officer Dale Davis. The village has been without a solicitor since the previous one quit attending meetings in January, and council has yet to recruit a replacement.

In the audience was attorney Luke McConville, who serves as village solicitor for Newburgh Heights near Cleveland, which uses Optotraffic’s system, and he was invited to the meeting by Councilman Tom Chambers.

McConville said he would be glad to serve as village solicitor and told them he is currently paid $150 an hour by Newburgh Heights (population 2,167) but would be willing to consider charging Rogers less.

“I understand a community your size has limitations. I get that,” he said.

When told the last village solicitor was only paid $150 per month, McConville said, “I’m sorry, I just can’t do that.”

McConville told them he would email them a proposed contract and fee, and council indicated they might call a special meeting later this month to consider his proposal if they believe it is affordable.

McConville then spoke about Newburgh Heights’ experience with Optotraffic, noting it generated a $1.2 million in traffic fine revenue for the village its first year, and the village only has an annual operating budget of $1.8 million.

He called it a “game changer” in terms of generating revenue and that Optotraffic’s estimates are “spot on.”

“The one thing you’ll be able to do is hire police,” McConville said.

“That’s what we’re counting on,” Chambers said. The village dissolved its police department in 2013 due to lack of funds.

Councilman Michael Hunt said that while additional revenue would obviously be a plus, their main goal of using Optotraffic is to curtail speeding in the village because of safety concerns. McConville said it will do that.

“What we’ve seen over four months was a 50 percent reduction in speeding,” he said. “The one thing I can tell you will happen is you will have angry residents.”

Councilwoman Jayne Balmenti said she is already hearing that from some people but they are usually local residents who live outside of Rogers. She said most village residents seem to be in favor.