Putting on the brakes--Police plan to step up U.S. 290 speed enforcement
By GARY ENGEL/Staff Reporter Saturday, July 7, 2007 9:15 AM CDT

U.S. 290 is a lovely, four-lane, limited, controlled access highway through Brenham.

But, despite what apparently far too many motorists who fly through town think, it is not an Autobahn. Those are in Germany.

Brenham Police Chief Glen Fowler has told city council members that during a recent period when officers were specifically monitoring the roadway, on a Sunday afternoon, every third or fourth car seen was traveling at least 15 miles per hour above the speed limit.

Fowler said 32 stops were made, and most operators were from out of town.

Giving credence to Fowler's observation that the bulk of the speeders are from elsewhere, he cites when the height of the traffic - and speeding - periods occur.

“Friday and Sunday afternoons have been the peak,” he said.

They are going to their destinations, mostly either Austin or Houston, on Friday, then traveling in reverse on Sunday.

There's not one particular spot where the problem is the worst, Fowler said. “It's from city limit to city limit,” east to west. Speed limit is 65 most of the way, but in one stretch, it's 60.

Fowler has plans for the amateur NASCAR drivers. If travelers don't back off a little, they'll get a souvenir for remembering something else related to Brenham along with ice cream.

“We are going to step up the pressure,” the chief declared. “We are going to make sure our officers monitor vehicle speeds and aggressive driving, especially during the peak times.”

Fowler is deploying overtime to make certain the traffic laws are enforced and yet assure that plenty of officers will be available to answer calls for service from the public, as well as for controlling traffic.

On the expressway, “the extra officers will be using laser to make sure they are getting specific vehicles that may be in a large group; when traffic is heavy,” he said. Radar signals are too generalized to correctly identify specific vehicles within a pack.

Fowler emphasized that marked units will be used in the program. He'll assign two officers to speed-monitoring duty 4-5 hours per day during the pinnacle violation period.

The patrols will be focused on speed enforcement, “but obviously, impaired drivers (are) something we're looking for, plus proof of financial responsibility (liability insurance) and licenses that are in good shape,” Fowler said.

Costs for violating the speed limit, for most people, are nothing to sneeze at. Municipal court officials said the fine, of course if one is found or pleads guilty, is $165 for the first 10 miles per hour above the posted maximum. Then, from that point, it's $5 for every mile an hour over. Maximum is listed at $200, but the judge has leeway to set the fine as “low” as $98 and as high as $298. And don't forget court costs.

Further - keep this in mind when those school zone lights flash - an extra $25 is tacked on if a violation occurs there.

Fowler's main goal for the enforcement program is to start getting frequent cross-Brenham motorists to be mentally prepared for reduced speeds when the massive construction project to improve U.S. 290 gets under way, which will change access to U.S. 290 and Business 36; give attention to smoothing out traffic at the west Brenham “cloverleaf,” where Highway 36 and U.S. 290 part ways; and upgrading the freeway's intersection with FM 577 on the east side of town.

TxDOT is reportedly reviewing contracts for the work, which will be funded via a special financing method that will hopefully save the city as much as possible if it receives final approval.

“We have seen some really devastating crashes on U.S. 290,” said the chief. He said that frequently, “people, groups and even civic organizations ask me about” what can be done to improve and make safer the traffic flow through the city-wide congested area.

“The 290 project is a good start,” Chief Fowler said. But until, and after, it's completed, “we (police) have still got to leave the impression that it's not a speedway.”