Three residents turned out for the December 14 town board public information meeting to discuss a proposal to lower Route 9W speed limits from the Saugerties-Ulster line to the border between town and village. All three expressed opposition to the measure.
Several months ago, Town of Ulster leaders proposed asking the state Department of Transportation, which has jurisdiction over the road, to lower the speed limit on their section of state highway Route 9W. They cited the amount of traffic on the road and the number of accidents along the road. They asked the town of Saugerties to sign on to their request in the hope that both municipalities asking for lower speed limits might demonstrate to the DOT the seriousness of the proposal.
Route 9W, a major commercial thoroughfare through the two communities, has speed limits that range from a low of 30 m.p.h. in the village to a high of 55 m.p.h. in the Glenaire section of Saugerties.
Town councilman Fred Costello, who owns the popular eatery Sue’s on Route 9W, said a number of businesses and residents have come forward to ask for the speed reductions. They say they have difficulty getting out of their driveways when cars and large trucks are zooming by.
Police chief Joseph Sinagra sent a letter saying that in the last year 92 accidents had been reported along the Saugerties section of 9W. Of that number, 28 had resulted in personal injury. He agreed there was a significant amount of traffic on the road.
But Glasco resident William Ball, whose family lives along Route 32, expressed a different perspective. He said that “on the surface this request makes no sense.”
The speed reduction request by the Town of Ulster was caused by that town approving so much commercial development along its section of Route 9W, Ball said. Now it wants to solve the problems on the back of local commuters. “I question their motives for wanting to do this,” said Ball, who was opposed to lower limits.
“They’ve created commercial creep” along the highway and now want to slow the traffic down, Ball added. Lowering the speed limit would move some of that traffic onto Route 32, where there are about 200 homes. There are few homes along Route 9W.
“They [the town of Ulster] are trying to solve a problem they created in the first place,” Ball concluded.
Al Bruno, who lives in Malden, has to drive to Poughkeepsie every day. He saw the move to reduce speeds as a revenue generator for both municipalities. “People already drive below the speed limit because of the amount of traffic, and if you lower the speed limit it will move even slower,” Bruno said. “Lowering the speed limit will not affect the amount of traffic. It will still be there.”
It’s wasn’t fair to penalize the commuters, Bruno said. If the speed limit were lowered, the Saugerties police will use it as a speed trap to begin writing tickets to those commuters just trying to get to work.
“What needs to be done is better enforcement of the existing speed limit,” Bruno said. “That will make the road safer. Saugerties is known as one of the Top 10 coolest towns in America, this will make it one of the Top 10 slowest towns in America.”
“This is just a knee-jerk reaction to a problem in Ulster,” said Dan Ellsworth, who is also against a change in the speed limit. “What you need is a good traffic study of the corridor to make recommendations as to what needs to be done.” Town of Ulster officials, Ellsworth said just want to move the traffic off Route 9W onto the Thruway.
Ball, Bruno and Ellsworth all noted that speed limits are already slow along much of the corridor, and that making them even slower would impede traffic and only add to congestion problems.
At one time there was a traffic study down on the corridor, Fred Costello noted, and it might be time to implement some of the suggestions made in that study. He said it would take the town board time to discuss the suggestions before deciding what to do with Ulster’s request.