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North Huntingdon residents voice concern about possible removal of stop signs

Tony LaRussa
| Wednesday, July 23, 2014, 9:00 p.m.

North Huntingdon resident Mary Wilshire doesn't know the laws for putting up stop signs, but to her it's common sense to keep a pair of stop signs in Lincoln Hills.

North Huntingdon's plan to remove a pair of stop signs at an intersection in Lincoln Hills has drawn dozens of complaints from nearby residents who want the signs to remain.

But if commissioners concede to residents' requests, the municipality could face liability issues because they do not meet the state transportation department's guidelines for stop signs, according to officials.

The board was scheduled to vote July 16 on whether to remove two of the three stop signs installed in 2010 at the three-way intersection of Oxford Court and Westminster Drive.

But following a discussion about the signs during which nearly two dozen residents complained about speeding vehicles in the residential neighborhood and how the loss of the signs could jeopardize safety, the board voted to delay making a decision until next month.

Commissioner Chairman Richard Gray said it would be unfair to vote on the measure that night because three of the board's seven members were absent — including Thomas Krause, who represents Lincoln Hills.

“We feel that removing the stop signs is an irresponsible and dangerous decision for our children,” said Jeralyn Brown of Oxford Court. “Although it was made clear to us that the stop signs are not intended as a speed control measure, they clearly result in a safer and slower pace of cars on our street.”

Wilshire of Westminster Drive said while she does “not know what constitutes a legal stop sign, but I do know what constitutes common sense, and removing the stop signs doesn't even approach common sense.”

Township officials said after a resident informed them the signs did not meet the state Department of Transportation's criteria, they hired traffic consultant David E. Wooster and Associates Inc. to review the intersection. The consultant recommended the signs be removed. Consultant Michael A. Andrewsh said when he analyzed the intersection using PennDOT's criteria he “concluded that having a multi-stop wasn't justified.”

A traffic study conducted by North Huntingdon police officer James Novak made the same recommendation for removal.

Over the course of two days, 523 cars were counted passing through the intersection, Novak said. Maureen Kurp of Oxford Court asked commissioners to use “common sense” when making their decision.

“What it comes down to it, what's at the heart of this matter is that the children in this neighborhood need protected from people that fly through,” she said. “The stop sign does slow them down. It's common sense.”

Kris Laukus of Westminster Drive asked the board to not only consider leaving the signs in place but “possibly consider adding more stop signs at some of the other intersections in our community that are dangerous.”

But Manager John Shepherd said the municipality must be “very careful about where we place stop signs” because the township came close to losing state funding in the early 1980s when PennDOT determined that dozens of stop signs in the township failed to meet its criteria.

To avoid losing road-paving money collected from fuel taxes, the municipality removed dozens of stop signs.

Gray said failing to remove unwarranted stop signs means that citations issued to a driver who runs a stop sign could be dismissed by a judge.

“The police department has told us that if we leave the stop signs in, they are not enforceable,” Gray said. “So if you see somebody cruising through stop sign, all they have do is go to the magistrate and they get out of it.”

Gray also is concerned that leaving the stop signs up could open the township up to liability claims.

Tony LaRussa is a staff writer for Trib Total Media.

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