speed limit
Rosemary Hennessy stands by a 35 mile per hour speed limit sign on Mill Street in Port Republic near her Mill Bridge Court home. Anthony Smedile

Rosemary Hennessy, after years of waiting, finally moved into her dream home in Port Republic about a year ago.

It was in the ideal neighborhood with the perfect school system for her young daughter, Rebecca. She had even paid for Rebecca to attend school there until the family found the right house.

Now, Hennessy says, she has everything that she has ever wanted in a home. Everything, that is, except peace and quiet.

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Her house sits on the corner of Mill Bridge Court and Mill Street, on which passing vehicles seem more interested in breaking land speed records than adhering to the posted 35-miles-per-hour speed limit

"When the school buses fly past by here, which happens all the time, it sounds like someone is trying to land an airplane next to my house," she said.

"Sometimes I have to put music on at night to drown out all of the noise," said Hennessy, adding traffic often reaches upward of 70 miles per hour. "It's crazy, because it's the only thing that's wrong with this place."

Hennessy could soon see that problem disappear, or at least greatly diminish, thanks to a new law that former Gov. Jon S. Corzine signed in his last days in office. The law allows municipalities and counties to set their own "reasonable and safe speed limits" for self-contained roadways within their borders without having to seek approval from the state government, as long as a licensed professional engineer agrees the changes are appropriate.

"It' simply gives towns and counties the determination on what the appropriate (conditions) are for their local roadways," said Assemblyman Brian Rumpf, R-Ocean, Burlington, Atlantic, a co-sponsor of the bill. "And it allows for a quicker, and more appropriate, response to the concerns of local residents without having to waste time going through a lengthy bureaucratic process."

The law also gives municipalities and counties the ability to designate parking restrictions, crosswalks and no-passing zones, and to erect stop and yield signs. These changes also require the approval of an engineer.

State Sen. Jeff Van Drew, D-Cape May, Cumberland, Atlantic, said he sponsored the law because of past experience as a local and county elected official in trying to adjust local speed limits and other traffic laws. Those efforts get held up in red tape, he said.

"Checks and balances are good; you can't do away with those. But local governments have a very good sense of what the needs of their communities are," Van Drew said.

"They would tell the state what was needed, and they were right. They knew the streets. They walk the streets. But they still had to undergo a long approval process ... during which time the dangerous situation (went unaddressed)."

Two years ago, residents and officials in Little Egg Harbor Township were frustrated by motorists speeding along Leitz Boulevard, using it as a shortcut from Route 9 to Center Street. Lower speed limits and signs were options discussed to slow cars down.

But the township responded by strategically placing traffic barrels on the street with "Do Not Enter" signs to discourage speeders. Officials said at the time they couldn't do much more without state approval.

"We'll certainly take a look at the law to see how much discretion it gives us. And then we could talk to residents again to see if there is anything we can do to address their concerns," Deputy Mayor Arthur Midgley said.

"I think this is a good thing, because it gives towns more home rule over things we are more familiar with. Trenton doesn't know our roads or the problem areas on them. Not like we do."

Port Republic was toying with the idea of establishing a citywide speed limit for its roadways prior to the law being enacted. Following the bill's passage, the City Council has instructed its engineer, Matt Doran, to start evaluating the city's roadways to determine if the change could be made.

"It's a way for us to standardize all of our roads, which will help make life easier for our law enforcement officers," said Port Republic Mayor Gary Giberson.

Giberson said the State Police, who patrol the city, would often run into problems writing speeding tickets due to the limits changing throughout the municipality.

"Unless they're really familiar with our town, they'd have to stop and (say),'Wait, where am I again? I'm east of what road? I'm west of what road?'" Giberson said. "Making all of our roads 25 miles per hour will make our town a little easier to patrol."

Doran said the project should go relatively smoothly considering a majority of the city's roadways are in residential areas.

"If everything goes smoothly, and I don't see why it wouldn't, I'd say a couple months from now is a good prediction for when we would be ready to move forward," he said.

Doran said the city would have to petition Atlantic County to decrease the speed limits on the most heavily-trafficked roadways in the city, such as Gunning River Road, because most are county roads.

- Staff writer Emily Previti contributed to this report.

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