Let's start with a brain teaser here. Imagine driving a major highway first at 45 mph, then a few hundred yards later 55 mph, then shortly after that 50 mph, and finally, half a block later 40 mph. Got it?
Well drive out of New Brunswick, NJ(home of Rutgers University) on newly rebuilt Route 18 and that's exactly what you get--a highway with speed limits that go from 45 mph to 55 mph to 50 mph to 40 mph within just half a mile.
"I would say I'm happy I never got pulled over," said Rutgers student Amanda Cobas, who admitted she thought the speed limit was 65 mph.
That might be understandable, because up until a week or so ago, there was no posted speed limit. This was the highway that when it was finished, became infamous for having blank speed limit signs. Then, after nbcnewyork.com reported on it, state DOT officials found some black plastic garbage bags lying around that they used to cover up the blank signs.
Their justification for going from blank signs to garbage bag-covered signs to 4 different speed limit signs? "Reconstruction ... completely changed the character of the highway," wrote spokesman Tim Greeley in an email. Therefore NJDOT had to "conduct comprehensive speed limit studies... once Route 18 had been fully opened."
In other words, they wanted to see how fast motorists would go, presumably safely, before setting a speed limit, or in this case, multiple speed limits.
The studies, and the final decision on the speed limits, came too late for one New Brunswick resident, 15 year old George Coleman, Jr., who was struck and killed back in October as he tried to cross an intersection on the new highway. He was hit by a motorist traveling at 68 miles an hour, according to a New Brunswick police investigation.
Now, that particular stretch of roadway has been marked for 45 mph, though the New Brunswick City Council Wednesday is expected to approve a resolution calling on the NJDOT to lower it to 40 mph.
"Forty-five poses a little bit too much of a hazard as far as the speed being too much," said Councilman Rob Recine, who says he will vote for the resolution.
As to the multiple speed limits, Recine added "It's a little bit dangerous in the fact you go from one speed to another speed to another speed and I think that just invites some problems."
NJDOT spokesman Greeley defended the multiple speed zones, noting at least two other state highways with similar changes. "NJDOT has determined the posted speed limits are appropriate for this stretch of highway," he wrote in his email.
Greeley added that traffic engineers often wait to post speed limits until after the highway has been finished and opened. As to the possibility of posting "Pedestrian Beware" signs during those times of no speed limits, Greeley wrote "it will be looked into."