New Milford considers lowering speed limit to reduce curve signs

NEW MILFORD — Town officials and residents want to lower the speed limit on some of the rural roads, especially if it means fewer or no curve signs.

Most of the signs were installed across the state in December as part of a federal program aimed to make rural roads, especially curves, safer. But in New Milford, the signs generally have been greeted with outrage, with residents saying there are too many and they disrupt the rural characteristic of the area.

Towns opted into the program a few years ago and worked with the state to determine they types of signs they wanted.

In New Milford, this was done with the previous administration. Once Mayor Pete Bass learned of the project, he reached out to the state Department of Transportation about reducing the number of signs around town and arranged a public information meeting so residents could share their input on what they want to see on their roads.

“Whoever thought this up, needs to take it back,” Councilman Tom Esposito said at the meeting.

Esposito lives on Big Bear Hill Road which he said has 56 signs on the road, with 16 pairs of signs on his property alone. He said some of the curve signs added around town were good but there were too many and the money could have been better spent. He said all of the Big Bear Hill residents would support lowering the speed limit to 15 mph instead.

Bass said the traffic advisory committee at its next meeting will start working on the application to lower the speed limit, but reminded everyone the decisions is ultimately up to the state Office of Traffic Administration on the final speed limit.

The process would take about two months and includes two people from the office visiting the road and conducting a series of tests.

Public Works Director Mike Zarba said the need for so many signs is a good example of why the speed limit should be reduced in certain spots.

At the meeeting, others suggested adding rumble strips on the center lines because residents felt the problems were caused by drivers’ behaviors and the signs wouldn’t change that. They said small reflectors or a singular curvy road sign would suffice and not disrupt the nature too much.

Other towns are trying to remove the signs and Ridgefield is considering lowering its speed limit so that the signs are no longer needed.

Connecticut received a $3.84 million federal grant, including nearly $782,000 to install signs in 19 towns in District 4, which covers northwestern Connecticut and includes New Milford.

In New Milford, 339 signs will be installed on 14 roads. Some of those installations are still to come.

David Neelands, a DOT traffic engineer, said all of the signs have been ordered and will be installed. The town then assumes control of them. He said the town would be liable if a sign is removed and a fatal accident happens there.

“They become the town’s responsibility and liability,” he said.

Signs are being installed or are installed on Barker Road, Big Bear Hill Road, Brown’s Forge Road, Gaylord Road, Geiger Road, Little Bear Hill Road, Long Mountain Road, Ridge Road, Second Hill Road, South Kent Road, Squash Hollow Road, Station Road and West Meetinghouse Road.

The amount of signs is determined using federal guidelines and largely uses the difference between the posted limit and the suggested speed limit to safely travel around the curve, said Ryan Pothering, a DOT traffic engineer.

“To go down these beautiful scenic roads and see all of these signs seems counterintuitive,” said resident Joe Quaranta.

Quaranta said he has heard from some of the older neighbors that the signs have made it hard to drive at night because there are so many of them that they are blinding as they reflect the headlights.

“When they come around the road, it’s like a wall of yellow,” he said.

More signs are to come as the state looks to apply the program to curves on state roads. The project is still being designed, but Pothering said there are 6,000 curves across the state and 1,800 curves in District 4 that are included.

He said making rural roads safer is a trend the federal government is doing and Connecticut is following suit. He called the efforts proactive and focused on preventing accidents from occurring.

“For us, putting signs in is a way to direct attention back to the road,” he said.

About 47 percent of total fatal crashes happen on rural roads, though only 19 percent of the U.S. population lives on rural roads. About 28 percent of the fatal crashes happen when a car drives off the road at a curve.

Most of the speakers at the meeting said there hadn’t been an accident on their roads in a long time and the few that did happen were because it was icy or the driver was drunk. They said the signs the roads are installed on are hardly ever driven on save for the people who live there and are already familiar with the roads.

“We all know there’s a curve there,” Esposito said. “We live on curvy roads. It’s New Milford.”