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Saugus lowers speed limit on main roads despite recommendation from chief of police

The Board of Selectmen lowered the speed limit on Main Street, Essex Street, and Lincoln Avenue to 25 miles per hour, despite the recommendation from the chief of police to leave it alone.

Interim Police Chief Ronald Giorgetti said 23 percent of the 518 crashes in town last year were on the three roads, but the majority were caused by inattentive, distracted, or impaired drivers.

“I want the police department to know that this is in no way us ignoring the opinions of (the Police Department),” said Selectman Jeff Cicolini. “We do value your opinion and the Police Department, but we also have a responsibility as traffic commissioners to protect the interest of our residents as best as we can see fit and within our purview and our authority.”

Selectmen will also address Central Street, which was set to be on the agenda for Wednesday night but wasn’t advertised due to a clerical error. There are currently six different speed limits at different parts of Central Street, and similar inconsistencies on the other roads, said Cicolini.

Chairwoman Debra Panetta said after Central Street is discussed, no other roads will be addressed until a traffic study is completed.

Town Manager Scott Crabtree announced Tuesday a town-wide speed limit analysis is underway.

The Engineering Corp, an Andover-based transportation, engineering and surveying firm, will work closely with the town over the next several months to identify and study areas where traffic volumes and speeds are a concern, and take a comprehensive look at suggesting speed limits for town streets and identify the best placement for accompanying signs.

“The safety of our residents and visitors within our town has always been and will continue to be a top priority to this administration and Board of Selectmen,” said Crabtree in a statement.

Crabtree said the goal with the study is to increase protection and peace of mind for pedestrians and drivers within the community with a consistent, uniform approach.

As part of his recommendation, Giorgetti suggested consulting with an engineer on lower speed limits and sign placement.

“Some of these roads are constructed for a speed much greater than 25 miles per hour,” he said.

Police also discovered that the speed limit was not posted for large stretches of the road, said Giorgetti.

“It’s the department’s findings that if the three streets are posted accordingly and enforced with a dedicated traffic unit, we can reduce those traffic crash numbers significantly and avoid any additional damage to property or persons,” he said.

Selectmen agreed that providing the Police Department with funding for more resources would be imperative.

“Twenty-five miles per hour, that’s great, but if we are not partnering with the Police Department and you can’t enforce it, I could put signs up that say 2 miles per hour and it’s not going to make a difference,” said Panetta. “For you to be able to enforce whatever we vote on, you do need to have the appropriate staff.”

The Board of Selectmen voted unanimously in December to lower the speed limit from 30 to 25 miles per hour on smaller roads, including Bisbee Road, Hanson Road, Iron Works Way, Cider Mill Road, Vinegar Hill Drive, and Hitching Hill Road.

Town Meeting member Bill Brown was one of about two dozen residents to speak in favor of either lowering the speed limit or funding better enforcement. He said he and a group of other residents are pushing for town-wide speed limit of 25 miles per hour.

“However long it takes to do a comprehensive study, we’re rolling the dice here —  someone could get hurt,” said Brown.

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