SAUGUS — The Police Department will need funding for a dedicated traffic unit to enforce several new, lower speed limits in town, said Chief Ronald Giorgetti.
“It’s not as simple as saying ‘this is the salary for two new officers,'” Giorgetti told the Item Thursday. “There’s the benefits, the cost of training. It’s a lot more than just salary.”
The Board of Selectmen voted to lower the speed limit to 25 miles per hour on Central Street Wednesday night. This was the final road the board set out to take up after a group of residents petitioned for slower speeds.
The panel voted unanimously in December to lower the speed limit from 30 to 25 miles per hour on Bisbee Road, Hanson Road, Iron Works Way, Cider Mill Road, Vinegar Hill Drive, and Hitching Hill Road.
Earlier this month, they did the same for Essex Street, Main Street, and Lincoln Avenue.
On behalf of the chief, Lt. Arthur Connors told the Board of Selectmen Wednesday night that Giorgetti’s position had not changed.
“He believes the speed limits are appropriately set, but they’re not posted,” said Connors. “He suggests that we post the speed limits.”
The current speed limit, which changes eight times on Central Street, was adopted in 1968. The signs were either never posted or were taken down over the years. If the speed limit is not posted, it is 30 miles per hour by default, said Connors.
“The only thing the chief recommends is, if the speed limit is dropped to 25, that we would need additional funds in the budget for a dedicated traffic unit to enforce it,” said Connors. “And if you do lower it, you are going to increase traffic congestion on Central Street. You’re all Saugus residents. You know what the traffic is like.”
In 1968, there were a lot less cars on the road, said Selectman Jeff Cicolini.
“Roll forward 50 years and things have changed,” he said. “Unfortunately, we haven’t changed with the times.”
As traffic commissioners for the town, Cicolini said the Board of Selectmen has a responsibility to protect the public.
“I personally believe eight speed changes on any road is borderline ridiculous,” he said.
“It’s exponentially more difficult when it’s not posted,” said Connors.
To establish a dedicated traffic unit, Giorgetti said he would need to hire at least two or three more officers. He could not provide an estimated cost for the personnel change.
Town Manager Scott Crabtree said he and Giorgetti are still having that conversation as they discuss the town budget.
“We’re in the process of analyzing that,” he said Thursday. “We’re initially looking at what we can do to initially have some impact on what he’s looking for. It will probably take multiple years to build up to what the department is looking to do in the town. It’s certainly a public safety issue and there’s a need that we’re trying to address.”
A traffic study is currently underway across town.
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 study is intended to look at the entire town, rather than taking it street by street. It is expected to be completed this spring.