Sunday, July 20, 2003

'Speed trap' loses sole traffic light

New Rome hopes to change image

The Associated Press

NEW ROME, Ohio - Onlookers cheered state officials as they took down the only traffic light in this central Ohio village known for decades as a speed trap.

"It's wonderful," said Mayor Jamie Mueller, who has been trying to improve the image of the village since becoming the first mayor elected in New Rome in more than a decade. "It's another step in the right direction."

But Village Council member David Tisler disagreed.

"It's all because of some political bull," said Tisler, insisting the removal was part of a plot to shut down the village.

For years, the light marked the village's 1,000-foot stretch of U.S. 40, where police pulled over thousands of motorists.

Business owners had long complained that police stops caused potential customers to avoid the community.

The police department in the community of about 60 people west of Columbus has been inactive since June, when Police Chief Larry Cunningham and Lt. Roger Kerr resigned.

The officers departed soon after Gov. Bob Taft signed a law that suspends mayor's courts in villages with fewer than 100 people. It was widely seen as being aimed at New Rome.

Mueller said he is happy to see the end of a police department that used to generate more than $400,000 a year in traffic fines.

Tisler said the village no longer is protected.

He said the absence of police allowed a hot dog shop to be broken into.

"Radios have been stolen out of these cars. I used to be able to sleep with my doors open," he said.

The Ohio Department of Transportation decided to get rid of the light because of low traffic volume on the cross street where it was located, spokeswoman Michelle May said.

"You're stopping ... thousands of motorists to let out 300 (vehicles) a day," she said.

ODOT officials said four intersections within a mile of the light already have signals.

By spring, ODOT hopes to introduce new signs to replace ones that read 35 mph on New Rome's stretch of U.S. 40. The goal is to match the 45 mph limit on both sides of the village's borders.

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