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Cornelius News

Town Board hears from residents opposed to higher speed limits

Connie and Larry Cook, center, with some of the Jetton area residents at the Town Board meeting

Aug. 21. By Dave Yochum. More than a dozen Jetton Road area residents turned out for the Town Board meeting last night, only to have the commissioners request further study for the accident-prone boulevard.

According to town statistics, the intersection of Jetton and West Catawba has the third-highest number of accidents in town.

In spite of that, commissioners are considering the possibility of raising the speed limit on parts of Jetton. It would remain 25 mph on the other side of West Catawba in a commercial area, and vary from 35 mph to 40 or 45 mph into the residential areas west of Harris Teeter.

Resident Larry Cook asked the town board to consult with Police Chief Bence Hoyle before raising the speed limit. “There is no upside to justify higher speed limits other than drivers getting to Catawba Avenue 10-15 seconds faster,” Cook said.

“Higher speeds contribute to accident severity, resulting in potentially life-altering personal injuries and higher fatality risk,” Cook added.

The discussion all came about because of the dangerous intersection at Old Jetton—in front of Harris Teeter—and Jetton.

Accidents occur when motorists heading out of Old Jetton try to make a left onto Jetton, and then head toward West Catawba. Conversely, cars pulling out of the shopping center from the driveway between Waterbean Coffee and Brooklyn South are another source of accidents.

The town has come up with what they’re calling the “pork-chop” plan, which would prevent both left-hand turns and straight across movements on Jetton at Old Jetton and the Waterbean/Brooklyn South driveway.

The costs range from around $45,000 to about $65,000, which includes purchasing rights of way, softening the right-hand-turn from Old Jetton to Jetton and constructing a modest barrier to prevent crossing Jetton directly.

Commissioner Dave Gilroy was the only commissioner who expressed opposition to higher speed limits.

Resident William Brunk, who lives on Spinnakers Reach about 1.6 miles farther into The Peninsula, voiced “his very strong opposition to raising the speed limit.”

He said the logic around raising the speed limit was off-base, especially when the issue is car accidents on Jetton near the Harris Teeter.

Jetton is also a popular cycling road with children making their way to and from destinations as well as adults cycling alone or in groups of a dozen or more.

Speeding cars have come “within inches” of Cook, a cyclist.

Residents said there was a credibility gap around the town’s purported effort to be a pedestrian- and bicycle-friendly community. Economic developers say a friendlier streetscape is good for the next wave of home buyers and employers.

Gar VanDoren, who lives on Meta near Jetton, said he frequently hears screeching brakes. The intersection is challenging for motorists—and pedestrians—trying to cross Jetton.

“How can you get from one side to the other when people blow through the crosswalks,” he asked.

This is the area where Commissioner Denis Bilodeau has suggested raising the speed limit. A town survey around safety issues at Old Jetton showed some people were in favor of higher speeds.

Peggi Van Doren said “if you try to cross Jetton, you take your life in your hands.”

“To think you would ever raise the speed limit is beyond my comprehension, with children on the sidewalks,” she said.

The speed limit on Jetton was lowered when the town took over the road from the NCDOT. Lower speeds did not reduce the number of accidents at Old Jetton. Moreover, speed limits had nothing to do with two fatal crashes that took four lives on Jetton. Both were caused by extremely high speeds.

“As you head east on Jetton you find the speed limit is 35 mph in a commercial area, yet Jetton is a residential area with children running up and down the sidewalks. Crossing Jetton Road is hazardous enough with a 35 mph speed limit,” Brunk said.

Baer Rambach, who lives at 17210 Jetton, moved from California where “laws are enforced.”

There’s no such thing as driving while on a cell phone in California, he said. Not so here.

Distracted drivers are almost the norm, with accidents more likely at higher speeds than lower speeds, Cook said.

Bill Hart, a father of a six-year-old and an eight-year-old, also said  “you take your life in your hands” while trying to cross Jetton. The Hart family lives on Peninsula Club Drive North.

“It has been way safer this past year, at 35 mph, than it was in the past,” he said.

Commissioner Bilodeau is pinning his hopes for a safer road on a “deep look” at crosswalks.

Commissioner Kurt Naas promptly said he was adamantly opposed to any type of red lights for cross walks that would actually make motorists stop for pedestrians.

Commissioner Gilroy said he is “not supporting any increase” in the speed limit.

“I just don’t get why there is a rationale [for increasing the speed limit],” Gilroy said.