Osborn Avenue is among more than three dozen town roads classified by the state as “arterial” or “collector” roadways for which speed limits would still be controlled by the state DOT. Photo: Denise Civiletti

Long-sought state legislation to grant the Riverhead Town Board authority to regulate speed limits on town roads was passed by the State Legislature this month, but it doesn’t give town officials the authority they’d hoped for.

Town officials thought the legislation, passed June 13 by the Assembly and June 19 by the State Senate, would give the town board the authority to set speed limits for town roads.

But the legislation limits their authority to “town highways which have been functionally classified by the department of transportation as local roads on official functional classification maps.”

Local roads, by that definition are roads in residential developments and side streets. See State DOT website here and state inventory of roads in the Town of Riverhead. (The functional classification codes are listed in the column headed “FC.” The code for local roads is “19.”)

Virtually all other roads are “functionally classified” as “arterial” or “collector” roadways — designated 16 or 17 in the “FC” column on the state inventory — and the bill passed in Albany doesn’t give the town board authority to set speed limits for them. There are more than 40 town roads classified as “arterial” or “collector” roads in the Town of Riverhead.

Unfortunately, those “arterial” and “collector” roads are the very roads town officials wanted control over.

Town officials were not aware of the limitations in the just-passed bill when they discussed it yesterday at a town board work session, when the traffic safety committee gave its annual report.

Police Chief David Hegermiller said today he had not actually seen the bill text but was under the impression that it gave the town control over speed limits on all town-owned roads.

“If that’s the case, it’s right back to the drawing board,” Hegermiller said in a phone interview this morning.

“We want to have authority over the other roads. This is like a straw hat in a windstorm,” the chief said.

Supervisor Laura Jens-Smith said the town has been seeking this authority for quite some time and she was disappointed to learn that the bill passed by the legislature was so narrow.

“It’s the major roads that we want to limit and they need to be included,” Jens-Smith said.

“I just read the bill,” Councilwoman Jodi Giglio said this morning. “This is useless legislation but I’m not surprised — and it’s very disappointing.”

Giglio, who is currently the town board liaison to the traffic safety committee, said the town has been trying to get this done “for at least as long” as she’s been on the town board.

“I guess we’ll just keep sending letters. You think we’re making headway and here we are back to square one,” Giglio said.

Speeding is a problem in the town, Hegermiller said, and contributes to many of the more than 2,000 motor vehicle accidents that occur in the Riverhead each year.

The police department has been utilizing electronic signs that measure the speed of oncoming cars and has stepped up enforcement on speeding, he said.

The chief said town officials best know local roads and best know where the trouble spots are. He noted that when the town requested a change in the speed limit on Middle Road, the state DOT resisted the town’s request for a 35 mph limit. It was only after the town argued that a parallel road, Route 58, has a 35 mph limit that the state assented and reduced the speed limit on Middle Road from 40 to 35.

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Denise Civiletti
Denise is a veteran local reporter, editor, attorney and former Riverhead Town councilwoman. Her work has been recognized with numerous awards, including investigative reporting and writer of the year awards from the N.Y. Press Association. She is a founder, owner and co-publisher of this website.Email Denise.