More on MoDOT and Local Control of Roads
Just yesterday, I wrote about the loathsome move by the itsy-bitsy, teeny-weeny city of Charlack to install speed cameras on I-170 in St. Louis County. We’ve had a discussion in the comment section of that entry about the closely related issue of what happens when the owner of a road (in this case, the state of Missouri) and the city it goes through (in this case, Charlack) disagree on a policy, such as a speed limit or cameras.
As if on cue, today’s Post-Dispatch has a story about a disagreement between St. Charles County and MoDOT regarding bicycle restrictions on state roads within St. Charles. One councilman, Joe Brazil (I have had the pleasure of meeting him, and we have praised him here in the past for his stances against annexation and TIF abuse), wants to ban bicyclists from certain state roads in the county. MoDOT is opposed. My purpose here is not to discuss this specific issue, but rather the process. Nonetheless, I don’t support banning bicyclists from any roads other than interstate highways, and I have to point out one comment in favor of the proposal to ban bikes by someone who, understandably, has a personal interest in the matter:
Among supporters was Stephen East of Cottleville, whose 16-year-old daughter was seriously injured in a 2003 accident on DD when the vehicle she was driving topped a hill and encountered a bicyclist in her lane. East said she swerved, ran off the road, hit a tree and was thrown from the car.
“Public safety trumps personal rights,” East said.
No, sir, it doesn’t. And it is exactly this far-too-common belief that our safety is more important than our rights that is causing us to lose our rights to safety zealots via death by a thousand cuts. I give you helmet laws, seat belt laws, closed swimming pools, and the fact that organizations can no longer just have a bake sale or parish pot luck because health regulations forbid food cooked at a home from being sold or given away elsewhere. Because, you know, that’s “dangerous.”
But I digress. MoDOT says St. Charles can’t enforce the ordinance because the Highway Commission won’t approve it. MoDOT says it simply won’t post the signs telling people about the law — making it invalid under state law, which specifies that traffic rules must be properly posted for people to see. So, if St. Charles passes the ban and MoDOT won’t allow the county to enforce it, there will be some sort of court challenge. That might be the only way to answer the question of who has final say about roads — the governmental jurisdiction that owns it or the governmental jurisdiction it passes through.
In my opinion, the final say on traffic laws should belong to the jurisdiction that builds, maintains, and “owns” the road, if for no other reason than consistency. Hopefully, this will be further clarified soon, and hopefully in a way that does not allow cities like Charlack to do whatever they please on state or county roads.
I’d be delighted to see a statewide ban on things such as red light cameras and speed cameras on all roads. As the laws are currently written, though, I don’t think there is any doubt that cities can do whatever they want on city roads. (Thanks to Combest for the link.)