Grant will help county catch interstate speeders

By Todd Krysiak

Most drivers familiar with the interstate system know that if they're going to be pulled over for a violation on a superhighway, they most likely will be greeted by a state trooper.

That won't always be the case this summer in Columbia County, thanks to a grant the Columbia County Sheriff's Department received this year.

Columbia County Sheriff Dennis Richards said his department received a $30,000 grant to step up its enforcement by providing deputies for operations on stretches of interstate.

Eight deputies descended upon the Poynette exit (No. 115) on Interstate 39/90/94 Monday. One used a laser radar gun from an overpass to time traffic heading north. Several other patrol vehicles waited to stop speeding motorists as they passed under the bridge.

"The speeds out there are pretty unbelievable," Richards said.

Monday's procedure was the fourth day deputies had spent a four-hour block on the interstate as part of the state-funded Speed Wave program. Richards said the department will continue setting up on random dates and times along the highway through Labor Day.

During a similar operation Feb. 19, eight deputies issued 85 citations, including 78 for speeding and two for seat belt violations. They made one warrant arrest, one drug arrest, and issued one operating while intoxicated citation and two for driving on a suspended or revoked driver's license. He said the average speed among the speeding citations was more than 81 mph.

During the two March operations, deputies issued a total of 177 citations to drivers, and speeders had similar average speeds in a stretch of highway with a 65 mph limit.

Monday's operation also netted five violations of the state's move-over law when motorists failed to provide the necessary space for Columbia County highway crews working along the road.

"The move-over laws are extremely important for the safety of maintenance workers," Richards said.

The department has conducted the operation on weekends in the past and will continue to do so, but Richards said he prefers deputies to be out there on weekdays.

"The big thing on the weekends is that it is so busy that it's not real safe out there," he said. "It's just a very busy area."

Richards said the entire exercise is about safety and awareness.

"The idea is just to get people to slow down," he said. "It would be the best thing if we got out there and didn't get anybody -- that's not really the way it works, though."