Where the rubber meets the road

Council OKs speed bumps on selected streets

By Thomas Wilson
STAR STAFF
twilson@starhq.com

   Whether regarded by citizens as an effective safety device or an annoying traffic trend, speed bumps are coming to portions of six Elizabethton city streets.
   Elizabethton City Council voted 7-0 to install speed bumps and lower speed limits on sections of six city streets Thursday night after listening to support and opposition from several citizens in a public hearing.
   "I'm afraid what we are looking at is the foundation of an epidemic of speed bumps in our city," Barton Edens, a Race Street resident who opposed the devices, told council members.
   Several citizens who spoke in favor of speed bumps at a public hearing Thursday night cited safety concerns of motorists driving recklessly and too fast through residential areas.
   "It is dangerous to back out of your driveway," said Bob Lipford, 621 W. C St. "When school gets out, they come out of there screaming and hollering and flying."
   The streets designated for speed bumps are: West C Street between Bemberg Avenue and Eisenhour Street; West Riverside Drive between Ash Street and North Roan Street; Locust Street between Brandon and Race streets; Bluefield Avenue between Carriger Avenue and Siam Road; Riverview Drive (Siam Road) between Ingram Street and Siam Road; Race Street between North Pine Street and North Lynn Avenue.
   The city's department of Planning and Development presented the plan after receiving petitions signed by the required 67 percent of residents along the designated streets. Speed bumps have become a source of debate in the city after several of the humps were installed as part of the West Mill Street construction project. Those devices have effectively sent traffic, and motorists who skirt the speed limit, to West Riverside Drive according to many residents of that street.
   Herman Parker, 613 West C St., said the street's residents were wary of potential motorists exceeding speed limits each time they pulled out of their driveways. "Every time they pull out they are playing Russian roulette with whoever comes down there," he said.
   Lester Hodge, 406 W. Riverside Dr., told the council he had seen few accidents and little reckless driving while he had lived on Riverside.
   "There may be a few come down there speeding, but that goes on all over town,"said Hodge.
   Shannon Stevens, 1210 Bluefield Ave., said he had witnessed several accidents on Bluefield Avenue and many other close calls involving motorists and pedestrians. "We are getting a lot more traffic on Bluefield Avenue," he said, "and I would ask you put speed bumps down on Bluefield."
   Elizabethton Police Chief Roger Deal said since the devices were installed on West Mill Street, speeding violations given out on that street had become all but non-existent. He also said he was not aware of the devices causing problems for officers attempting to reach emergency scenes.
   Councilwoman Nancy Alsup made the motion to install the speed bumps and received a second from Mayor Pro Tem Sam Shipley.
   The speed bumps installed on West Mill Street cost roughly $2,500 each, City Manager Charles Stahl told the council. Mayor Sam LaPorte pointed out the speed bumps were not budgeted for the 2003-2004 fiscal year, but felt a budget amendment would be appropriate to fund their construction.
   "The signage shouldn't be a problem," Stahl said. "Getting the asphalt down before the weather gets bad could be the challenge."
   LaPorte also took time to express his concerns about two agencies he felt were not necessarily making financially sound decisions. Specifically, LaPorte questioned the Carter County Emergency Communications District's budget that included a three percent increase for the 2003-2004 fiscal year.
   "I find it disturbing," said LaPorte, who also questioned the possibility of a 45-cent surcharge increase for telephone customers to add funding to the district's budget.
   The budget was presented to the district's board of directors in August. Low salaries received by the county's 911 dispatchers as compared to neighboring districts motivated the increase, according to interim director Glenna Morton.
   "I think they are going to have to make some cuts just like we do," said Councilwoman Janie McKinney.
   Stahl said a state regulatory board must approve any surcharge requested by the district. The city of Elizabethton and Carter County governments subsidize the District's operation. The city appropriated approximately $85,000 to the District for the current budget year. LaPorte urged Stahl, who is a board member of the district, to convey the council's concern about the district's financial management.
   Hizzoner also took issue with a recent budget decision by the Watauga River Regional Water Authority to include a $75 monthly stipend to each authority board member who attended a WRRWA meeting. The stipend was included in that organization's 2003-2004 budget that was passed in September.
   "I'm trying to put all of us on that committee," said LaPorte. "It pays better than anywhere else."