September 22, 2006
Fast and furious: Caltrans raises speed limit on part of Hwy. 17, provoking neighbors' wrath
By GENEVIEVE BOOKWALTER
SENTINEL STAFF WRITER
SCOTTS VALLEY — Some city residents are furious after Caltrans, in the wake of the first speed survey on Highway 17 in a decade, raised the speed limit near Crescent Drive on the windy highway.
The state transportation agency hiked the speed limit from 50 to 65 mph for nearly a mile on the southbound lanes near Crescent Drive so California Highway Patrol can use radar to catch speeders. State law requires the speed limit to be what 85 percent of drivers are traveling, or radar-backed speeding tickets won't stand in court.
But nearby residents say the increased limit makes turning into their neighborhood more difficult and dangerous.
"They've created a very unsafe situation out of a situation that was tricky to begin with," said Wendy Anderson, who lives on Crescent Drive along with 30 of her neighbors. Arrowhead Water already refuses to deliver to customers there, she said, as it is too dangerous for delivery drivers.
But CHP officers say raising the speed limit was a necessary move so they could crack down on speeders. Officer Grant Boles said he hasn't seen an increase of accidents since the speed limit jumped earlier this year.
"Where it starts 65 mph, you come out of a curve, and it's a straightaway at that point," Boles said.
In fact, accidents overall this year are down from last year, when 689 collisions were reported on the mountain stretch of road. This year is on track with the eight-year average of 644 accidents, most occurring during the rainy months.
This is not the first time in Santa Cruz County road authorities have raised speed limits to allow law enforcement to use radar.
In Santa Cruz last fall, the City Council approved raising speed limits on eight streets to allow police to crack down on speeding. Earlier this year, county supervisors raised speed limits on 12 county roads for the same reason.
But none in either case were raised as high as 65 mph.
Despite CHP assurances to the contrary, Anderson said raising the speed limit was the wrong thing to do.
"I think safety's a lot more important then being able to enforce tickets," she said.
Contact Genevieve Bookwalter at firstname.lastname@example.org.
At a glance
* There has been an average of three-and-a-half fatal accidents on the local stretch of Highway 17 every year since 1998. The most was five in 1988; the fewest was two in 2000 and 2002.
* Accidents follow the weather; more occur in the rainy months than in the summer.
* If you get a speeding ticket, it will most likely be on the Santa Cruz County side of the thoroughfare. Officers on the ocean side of the hill issued 9,065 citations in 2005, compared to 4,964 in Santa Clara County.
Source: California Highway Patrol.