By Ian Perrotta
A little-known law appears to be bringing up some big questions for citizens and government officials alike.
Last week, it was reported that Hamtramck was one of several cities throughout Michigan that has not yet complied with Public Act 85 of 2006. The law, which took effect in November of 2006, requires municipalities to conduct studies to ensure speed limits are set at an appropriate level.
Though the Michigan State Police officers who are experts on the law were not available to clarify which part of the law specifically requires municipalities to conduct traffic studies, a Michigan Department of Transportation official was able to confirm that the state police’s understanding of the law generally leads them to believe it is a requirement. However, because he was unfamiliar with the exact parameters of the law, he was only able to speak for his department and not the police.
“Our interpretation of Public Act 85 is to work with state police to establish realistic speed limits on all our throughways,” said MDOT spokesman Rob Morosi.
In light of that news, many residents are now questioning the legitimacy of their tickets, particularly on the I-75 service drive. The road – identified as a speed trap by the National Motorists Association – has a speed limit of 25 mph, which many drivers say is far too low.
Another question being raised is why the study has not yet been conducted by the city and other municipalities. When asked about the law last week City Manager Bill Cooper appeared somewhat unfamiliar with it but said the city would look into its responsibilities and take the necessary actions. He did not return a message this week which sought to clarify the remark.
Also unanswered is the question of how a local municipality would even become aware of a little-known law. Because Public Act 85 was an amendment to an existing law, it was not subject to the scrutiny that new bills typically endure.
An even more pressing question is who is responsible for conducting studies on roads that are jointly owned. In Hamtramck, there are several roads that are maintained by the county.
Nick Frontczak, a former city attorney and councilmember, says that he thinks that in the case of county owned and operated roads, like Jos. Campau and Conant, responsibility for conducting traffic studies would either fall on the county or would be shared with the city.
Frontczak also said he did not think that future changes to the speed limit would have any bearing on past offenses. When asked if he thought drivers would have the necessary recourse to demand a refund for tickets issued in reassessed speed zones, Frontczak said it was unlikely.
“If the speed limit was visible and posted at the proper intervals, then I don’t think it’s a reasonable defense to rely on a traffic study that has yet to be conducted,” he said.
Last week, Cooper was also asked about the possibility of drivers demanding refunds from the city for fines stemming from unconstitutional traffic violations. He said he didn’t think it would be an option.
“We would say no,” he said.