Vandendooren Says Inadequate State Guidelines for Traffic Control Measures Could Expose Carroll County to Lawsuits
BY TOM KOCAL
MOUNT CARROLL — Kevin Vandendooren, Carroll County Highway Department supervisor, presented a list of signs, locations, and an estimated cost of $6,500 for the signs and posts for trails on the west side of the county.
“I sent a letter to Rep. Tony McCombie about some issues I have with the way the law is currently written. I got a reply, and she asked, ‘What does the county board think?’ I think the response would have more merit if it came from the county board,” Vandendooren said.
Vandendooren said one section of the law states that when setting up the trails, the county should “consider traffic volume, the conditions of the area, and determine if it’s safe to have the off-highway vehicles on the road. There are no metrics, no parameters, no design guidelines.”
He said he researched a federal highway manual and the policy on geometric design of highways and streets, the Bureau of Local Roads street manual, and the manual of uniform traffic control devices, but there are no measurement guidelines that could help the county make a safety determination.
“It would be a guess, and subject to possible court action,” Vandendooren said.
“What are too many vehicles per day? The highest traffic volume is Three Mile Road between state Route 84 and Sand Ridge Road, basically people going to work at the DuPont factory. Some of the other roads have 50 to 125 vehicles a day. Is that a lot of vehicles? There is no metric instructing us as to what too much traffic is.”
Vandedooren said that by the state including vague guidelines like these, the law then assumes that Carroll County is considering off-highway vehicles as an “intended” user of that highway.
“That designation is not provided for pedestrians that walk the roads, and it’s not provided to bicyclists or equestrian use. They are deemed ‘permitted’ users, but not intended users. It’s lawyer-speak for ‘here’s my opportunity to sue you if you screw up.’ I have an issue with that, and the other District 2 county engineers I spoke with concur: the law is too vague.”
Board Chairman Kevin Reibel said that the “sticking point” for his approval of the trail system is the proposed 45 mph speed limit, which would be the same for off-road vehicles as it would be for cars and trucks. It is less of an issue in the eastern part of the county, where most of the landscape is much flatter than in the western half.
“I’ve driven these roads, and to be honest, on probably 70 percent of the roads, people should not drive over 35 mph to begin with, even on some of the seal-coated roads, like Three Mile Road between Big Cut and Scenic Bluff Road. Trying to drive that at 45 mph was hard. You can’t do it,” said Vandendooren.
State’s Attorney Scott Brinkmeier said that the speed limit was more than likely set at 45 mph by the Legislature because the state doesn’t want the off-highway vehicle and regular vehicles traveling at different speeds, creating unsafe conditions.
Samples of registration forms, rules and regulations will soon be presented to the board and the State’s Attorney for consideration. Maps of the proposed trails and sign placements have been submitted to the board as well.
District 1 Board member Ron Preston is concerned with potential conflicts with snowmobilers, but Vandendooren said the rules and regulation are fairly clear about the different trails available.
“Just because a snowmobiler can ride in the ditch, doesn’t mean the ATV can. If there is a snowmobile trail sign that’s left up, that doesn’t authorize ATV’s to ride that trail. That’s included in the rules,” Vandendooren said.
He said the ultimate goal of the off-road trail users is to have all the trails developed on private land, and, obviously, off the roads. But revenue must first be generated in order to rent and develop the trails from landowners.
Vandendooren said the “Off-Road people” would help fund the project, but have a limited budget of $900 now. They will help maintain signs, and hold fundraisers, where they estimate $9,000 could be raised. Also, the county registration fees could generate another $4,000.
“If we got to the east side of the county, I could see that going from $4,000 to $14,000. Hopefully, it will be self-sufficient, once it’s up and running.”
Vandendooren is still developing the registration process, and that more than likely will take place at the Highway Dept. He said each off-road vehicle will need a particular license plate number that will be recorded at both the Highway Dept. and the Sheriff’s Dept.
Since the off-road vehicles will be under the same vehicle safety scrutiny as regular cars and trucks – such as working turn signals, brakes, etc. – there are not enough financial resources to inspect each registered vehicle, especially those out-of-the-area users that obtain a permit, unless the registration process is opened up to some local businesses.
“Registrants will be given copies of the rules and regulations. Once they read through them, they’ll know whether they’re legal or not. The turn signal requirement in the law is something I asked Rep. McCombie to change,” said Vandendooren.
“I know there are some motorcycles that don’t have them. They’re allowed by law to use hand signals. I gave her a proposal, that if they don’t have turn signals on the unit, the unit must be manufactured in such a way that hand signals are visible from the front and back.”
He added that farm-to-farm road usage is exempt from the measure, and a registered off-road driver must have a valid driver’s license.
The City of Mount Carroll and York Township are the only two agencies that have not responded with verbal approval. Vandendooren said Mount Carroll does have reservations. The city allows off-highway utility vehicles (UTV’s) in town, but not all-terrain vehicles (ATV’s).
An end of year time table is hopeful, but is dependent on any proposed changes or issues are brought up by the affected agencies in the county.
In his response to Rep. McCombie, Vandendooren also proposed that the county board may elect to put up a 35 mph speed zone, if the conditions warrant. He said the county board is the only entity that can set speed limits on township roads.
Reibel said he would like to see the board move forward with a letter of support to promote action in Springfield, adding that the board had until the Nov. 16 meeting to add a line item to the FY 2018 budget.
Vandendooren suggested the board re-read the statute in case of other issues that may need to be addressed, particularly when presenting the county ordinance that he has prepared.
Board member Joe Payette wants to “make a decision with the cards that we’re dealt right now,” and Rod Fritz agreed.
“That makes sense. If we’re not going to vote for it ultimately, and Kevin is doing all this prep work, then why do it if there isn’t any hope?” said Fritz, who would rather ATV riders stayed or visited Carroll County vs. loading up their trailers and heading out of the region or the state.
“Bring us an ordinance and we’ll take a look at it,” said Reibel.
Unfunded ‘assistance’ required in Circuit Clerk’s office
Circuit Clerk Patty Hiher attended a clerk’s conference, where she said the Supreme Court and the State of Illinois are “placing more responsibilities in our lap” regarding E-filing and helping people.
“We are to ‘assist them.’ That’s all they tell us to do. But they will have to explain exactly what ‘assisting’ means,” said Hiher, for items such as small claims and other court-related filings.
“We have the resources – a computer for people to use – but we don’t have the resources to stand there and talk them through the procedure. We’re not lawyers; we’re not allowed to tell them how to do it.”
Hiher said there will be more information coming within the next few months.