Sunday, March 28, 1999

Cities win back right to ticket

Interstate speed can be enforced

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        BLUE ASH — A ruling by the Ohio Supreme Court last week upholds the right of communities to enforce interstate highway speed limits within their boundaries regardless of how much of the highway is within the municipality.

        The court struck down a 1994 law that prevented Linndale, a Cleveland suburb of about 200 residents, from ticketing motorists who speed down a sliver of interstate in the village.

        Blue Ash said it joined the legal battle with Linndale to protect its right to enforce traffic law within its boundaries. Three other local communities were affected by the law, which was created to curtail speed traps.

        The legal battle “was important to the issue of municipal law — making sure municipalities, as a whole, can call upon the safeguards of home rule within their boundaries,” said attorney Jim Schuster of Dinsmore & Shohl, which represents Blue Ash. “In our case, this was a victory for home rule.”

        By a 4-3 vote, the high court declared the law unconstitutional, agreeing that it violated home rule. The law took the right to enforce interstate speed away from about 25 small towns around the state — including Blue Ash, Madeira, Reading and Lebanon in southwestern Ohio.

Towns handcuffed
        The law had made it illegal for towns with less than a half-mile of interstate highway within their jurisdiction to enforce the speed limit.

        Linndale is only three blocks long and divided by a quarter-mile of Interstate 71. For years, police caught speeders on the small section of the highway that runs through the village. The money collected from fines made up most of Linndale's $480,000 annual budget.

        Blue Ash Safety Director Bruce Henry said his city is required to provide safety services to the interstate but under the law it was handcuffed to enforce such things as speeding and overweight trucks on the short section of Interstate 275 in the town.

Not in it for money
        In December, City Solicitor Mark A. Vander Laan argued before the court that the law would create a “hodge podge” in law enforcement throughout Ohio. He said Blue Ash's stretch of highway — less than 880 yards — is no speed trap.

        “Whatever revenue there is, it's a minuscule part of the budget of Blue Ash. Blue Ash is a city with revenues of $50 million,” he said. In all, Blue Ash generates $170,000 from traffic violations and other mayor's court cases.

        Mr. Henry, along with police officials in the other affected southwestern Ohio towns, said there will be no deviations from current law enforcement policy on the interstates.

        Mr. Henry and Madeira Police Lt. Matthew Fruchey said their officers patrol interstates as part of routine beat coverage and enforce traffic violators as they are observed. “We do not park a car out there to catch speeders,” Mr. Henry said.

        Chris Davey, a spokesman for Attorney General Betty Montgomery, said state officials, while disappointed with the ruling, were glad the decision does not seem to have broad implications for the state's authority to regulate interstates.

        The Associated Press contributed to this story.


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