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Galax could lower more speed limits

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By Shaina Stockton, Staff

The changes in Galax speed limits may continue as research finds more inconsistencies with the city’s roads.
Police Chief Rick Clark spoke with members of Galax City Council at their July 8 meeting, where he presented another recommendation, along with findings from research conducted by the city’s Traffic Safety Committee.
The discussion returned to an action item that was held over from council’s May 28 meeting — a recommendation to reduce the speed limit on U.S. 58 from 45 to 35 mph from Fries Road west to Mountain View.

In May, Clark introduced several proposals, including shifting the speed on U.S. 58/East Stuart Drive from 45 to 35 mph from the eastern city limits to the Fries Road/Lafayette Street intersection, lowering the speed from 35 to 25 mph on West Stuart Drive for its entire length and raising the speed from 35 to 45 mph on East Stuart Drive starting east from Waugh Drive.
Council requested additional findings from the traffic committee at the May meeting to determine how the current speed limits were being followed in the city. The results that Clark presented on July 8 were surprising to many of them.
According to the results of a traffic count at U.S. 58 (Reserve Boulevard), the road averaged 5,235 cars per day traveling east, and 4,104 per day going west.
The clocked speeds averaged at 42.4 mph on the eastbound lanes, and 41.1 mph westbound. However, the radar equipment captured some speeds as high as 81 mph going east, and 89 mph going west.
“Why would someone go so fast? Could it have been an emergency vehicle?” asked a council member.
“We’ve tracked some quick speeds and we could attribute to emergency vehicles, but not this fast,” Clark said. He explained that the equipment used to record the speeds does not have the ability to photograph cars, so there wasn’t a way to be sure of whose speed was clocked.
With the data presented, City Manager Keith Barker pointed out that, if council members were still unsure, they could take action at a later time. Council members agreed to give the other changes time to take effect.
Council Member Margo Crouse said that, since May, she has practiced driving 35 mph on U.S. 58 to Food City.
“I’m no speeder, but it’s sort of tough” to hold her speed down, she said.
Clark shared his plans to use social media to warn drivers of the changing speeds, and the Virginia Department of Transportation will lend the police department message boards to use later this month to warn motorists of the changes.
Mayor C.M. Mitchell thanked Clark and the committee for their work.

In other action July 8, council:
• appropriated the City of Galax Fiscal Year 2013-2014 budget.
Budget amounts are $18.3 million for general fund revenue and expenditures and $2.7 million for utility fund revenue and expenditures. The effective tax rates are $0.69 per $100 for real estate, $2.25 per $100 for personal property, and $1.50 per $100 for machinery and tools.

• appointed council member John Garner to continue as representative for District Three. Council member Bill Webb will continue to serve as the alternate.

• was notified of a change in legislation that requires disability insurance to be provided to new full-time employees hired after Jan. 1, 2014. “VRS is the default provider unless we opt out and seek coverage elsewhere,” said Barker. “The rate from VRS is currently listed at almost 1 percent of salary, which is high based on the opinion of our consultant. We are looking at other options and working with our insurance consultant to seek the best pricing.”