MALTA — Gov. Andrew Cuomo has signed a home-rule bill that will allow the town of Malta in suburban Saratoga County to set its own speed limits on town roads, without going through the usual state review process.
The law will require the state Department of Transportation to defer to the Malta Town Board when there are requests from residents to lower speed limits on town-owned roads. The town could set speed limits of between 25 and 30 mph on roads that, in some cases, have an un-posted 55 mph speed limit.
“This new law that I sponsored with Assemblywoman (Carrie) Woerner will enable the town of Malta, and its duly elected representatives and its residents, to have more control over making their local roads safer for passenger vehicles and pedestrians by giving them the power to lower speed limits when a higher road speed is deemed potentially hazardous to public safety," said state Sen. James Tedisco, R-Glenville.
“Local governments are experts on the needs of their own communities," said Woerner, D-Round Lake. "Malta residents approached me with safety concerns about the impact of vehicle speeds on certain roads and asked for my help to gain the right to set speed limits at the town level."
For a number of years, town officials have been fielding complaints from residents who believe people drive too fast on local roads, and they have become frustrated that the state DOT rarely grants those requests. That prompted a push by town residents for more local control. The Town Board requested the new law in January.
"People asking for safety aren't getting anything out of it. They're just asking for safety for their kids," said Elwood Sloat, a retired state police major who led the residents' efforts.
Under state law, only towns with more than 50,000 residents are allowed to set their own speed limits. Under the new law, which only applies to Malta, the DOT still reviews the requests, but requires DOT to defer to the town's judgment if a traffic study supports the reduction.
Bills that would let towns across the state set their own speed limits have been approved several times by the state Senate, but none of the bills have become law.
Town Supervisor Vincent DeLucia said most of the concerns he's heard from town residents are about speeds in the area around Chango Elementary School and the senior citizen housing near the Malta Mall. He mentioned Raylinsky Road, which runs past Chango, as one where the town might want to lower the speed limit — but he warned that the process won't be quick or arbitrary.
"We cannot willy-nilly change speed limits," DeLucia said. "We have to follow state and federal highway guidelines. Each and every request will have to be studied, including having an engineering study."
The law won't take effect for six months, and in the interim, a committee will be formed to study how to implement the new law.
"As we wait for the law to become effective, we will spend the next several months working to develop legally required procedures to move forward with the implementation," DeLucia said.
DeLucia said he remains concerned about enforcement of any new speed limits, since the town does not have its own police force.
"I still have an issue where if you have a law, you need to have a way to enforce it. We feel we'll be able to enforce with the assistance of the sheriff's office and the state police," he said.