Citing recent death, Cortlandville officials revisit plans to lower speed limit on McLean Road

CORTLANDVILLE, N.Y. – Despite repeated unsuccessful attempts in the past, officials in the town of Cortlandville plan to again ask the state to reduce the speed limit on a county road that some see as dangerous.

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A fatal crash in August on McLean Road, coupled with letters of concern from area residents, has prompted the Cortlandville Town Board to revisit the issue.

At issue is a less-than-one-mile stretch of McLean Road, from Deerfield Heights to the Cortland/Tompkins County line, where the speed limit is 55 mph, though many motorists travel at a rate of 60 to 65 mph, according to past studies.

Ron Rocco, who serves on the Cortlandville Town Board, has made repeated attempts–in 2006 and again in 2009–to convince the state department of transportation to lower the speed limit to 45 mph.

“I picked up this project because somebody asked me,” Rocco said in a phone interview last week. “This is dangerous. We need to do something about this.”

mclean road memorial

A memorial for Brianna Copes, an 18-year-old McGraw woman who was killed in an early morning crash on McLean Road August 16 (Peter Blanchard/Cortland Voice)

In 2009, Rocco and local officials submitted numerous documents to the New York State Department of Transportation to support their case for a lower speed limit.

“The area in question has been and will continue to be a dangerous and tragic area, not only for those who live there, but also those who travel that stretch of road,” Cortlandville Town Clerk Karen Snyder wrote in a letter to the state DOT.

The state denied the town’s requests, saying that the “roadside development and highway characteristics” justified keeping the existing 55 mph speed limit.

Growth at Lime Hollow, and past accidents

In planning their latest proposal, local officials plan to highlight the growth in programs and attendance at the Lime Hollow Nature Center, which is located on McLean Road.

Glenn Reisweber, the center’s executive director, says there’s been a huge increase in volume to the nature center since 2009.

“We’re at 29,000 visitors annually, most of them coming into this visitors’ center on McLean Road,” Reisweber said. “Our summer camps have exploded in enrollment … and with that you have an increase in traffic.”

lime hollow

The Environmental Education Center at Lime Hollow, which opened in June (photo courtesy of Lime Hollow Nature Center)

Reisweber says despite the high number of school buses that visit the center throughout the year, the state has maintained that Lime Hollow is not a school and therefore the speed limit should remain at 55 mph.

“In essence, we’re kind of a school, but we do not fit the DOT’s definition of a school,” Reisweber said.

Rocco reiterated Reisweber’s concerns, noting that the center’s programs have grown considerably since 2009.

“My concern is, although it’s not a state park, it deserves to be treated like one,” Rocco said.

In the town’s written requests for a speed limit change in 2009, officials also included newspaper clippings from the Cortland Standard, which reported in January 2007 that, “several accidents have occurred over the years along the one mile stretch of road.”

State officials maintain hard line

The town’s requests for a speed limit change in 2006 and 2009 were both rejected due to concerns that a lower speed would slow traffic on the road.

“It is the state wanting to move traffic through there as fast as possible,” Rocco said.

But Reisweber worries that it’s only a matter of time before another fatal accident happens on the road, noting that he’s observed at least half of a dozen cards off the road near the facility.

“My fear is that it will take another fatality. I don’t know what’s going to get [the state’s] attention.”

State officials did not return requests for comment submitted last week.

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