County commission to organize public hearings on creating Bloomfield Road speed limit

Friday, February 19, 2010
Speed is measured along a stretch of Cape Girardeau County Road 205, which has a 35 mph speed limit. (Fred Lynch)

Cape Girardeau County District 1 Commissioner Paul Koeper has long considered County Road 205, known for frequent accidents and speeding vehicles, a "problem child."

Now, Koeper and other officials want the speed limit between Benton Hill Road and Highway 74 changed to 35 mph.

"Every time law enforcement thinks about it raining, there's an accident there," Koeper said. "We as a county can adopt speed limits for our county roads. We're doing this for safety reasons."

During its meeting Thursday the Cape Girardeau County Commissioners decided to hold three public hearings before voting on the ordinance to lower the the speed limit.

County roads in Missouri have a default speed limit of 60 mph, unless the county passes an ordinance to reduce it, said Sgt. Dale Moreland, spokesman for the Missouri State Highway Patrol.

Flashing lights and signs displaying the 35 mph speed limit already are posted along the roadway, also known as Bloomfield Road. Mark Phillips, engineer for the Cape Special Road District, which maintains County Road 205, said he doesn't know why the signs were there when the actual speed limit is 60 mph.

Koeper said the 35 mph limit can't be enforced because the tickets will be thrown out of court.

In 2003, a Cape Girardeau driver contested a speeding ticket he received on County Road 205. His attorney planned to argue that the county had no authority to set speed limits because the commission didn't institute a new speed limit ordinance when the county earned a first-class designation in 1997. However, that issue was not ruled on because the speeding charge was dismissed in early 2004.

The time and place of the public hearings must be published in at least two newspapers at least 15 days beforehand. Hearings must also be posted at least 15 days in advance in four conspicuous locations in the county.

"As long as we have public hearings and allow for public input and discourse, this process will work," said District 2 Commissioner Jay Purcell.

Presiding Commissioner Gerald Jones suggested holding one hearing when the county commission normally meets, another at the Cape Special Road District, which maintains the road, and the third hearing at night at the county commission chambers.

The commission may approve dates of the hearings during its Monday meeting. If the ordinance is passed, the speed could be changed by late March or early April.

According to a letter addressed to Koeper from Cape Girardeau city engineer Kelly Green, the city conducted a study of traffic flow on County Road 205 from Oct. 6 to 19. The study found that in the westbound lane most drivers were traveling 50.38 mph while motorists traveling in the eastbound lane were driving 48.9 mph.

A Missouri State Highway Patrol study of accidents between Jan. 1, 2004, and Dec. 31, 2008, found that 75 accidents occurred on the road.

Temporary worker

In other action, the commission approved Circuit Clerk Charles Hutson's request of hiring a temporary worker in his office to replace deputy clerk Sandy Beck, who joined a private Cape Girardeau law practice Feb. 11. Hutson told the commissioners during its Feb. 8 meeting that a Missouri Office of State Court Administrator document ranked Cape Girardeau County 15th among counties that needed additional help in the circuit court.

Court hearing

At the end of the meeting Purcell raised a concern that Jones and Koeper will use taxpayer money to attend the Missouri Supreme Court's hearing of arguments in Purcell's lawsuit against the commission alleging a violation the state's Open Meetings and Records Act.

The lawsuit stems from an April 2008 closed-door meeting that Purcell secretly recorded and involved several officials who confronted county Auditor David Ludwig and asked for his resignation. Purcell later made the secret recordings public. The Missouri Eastern District Court of Appeals ruled in July that the commission cannot be sued.

"There is really no reason for the citizens to pay for us to go there," Purcell said, adding that the commissioners can instead listen to the hearing over the Internet.

Koeper and Jones plan on leaving Tuesday and stay overnight in an $80 hotel room. Koeper said they are using money wisely because Tuesday they will tour a Franklin County juvenile facility and Wednesday visit the Boone County Courthouse to look at its security system. Cape Girardeau County is considering rebuilding its juvenile center.

Purcell said that since Koep?er and Jones are riding in one vehicle and touring the courthouse and juvenile facility, they are violating the Sunshine Law. But Tom Durkin, who serves as public education director for the Missouri attorney general's office, said that is not a violation because the drive is part of commissioners' administrative function. Durkin suggested that Koeper and Jones, while not required by law, could take notes of their experience and include that information as minutes.

Koeper said he is attending because he is being sued as a part of the commission.

"I feel like if I'm being sued for something that I wasn't even here on, I want to learn the whole thing," said Koeper, who took office in 2009. "I want to be there, I want to be involved in it."

Jones told Purcell that if he cared about saving the county money he would not have filed the lawsuit.

bblackwell@semissourian.com

388-3628

Pertinent addresses:

1 Barton Square, Jackson, MO

Cape Girardeau, MO

Map of pertinent addresses

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