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Question: At Stage Gulch Road, repaving and associated work was done last year, and currently they are doing some drainage work. Near where Broadway meets Stage Gulch, there is a sign that says “Road Work 40 MPH.” About 1/2 mile away, there is a regular speed limit sign of 45 mph. About a half mile away there is a 40 mph sign; another mile and there is a 45 mph… throughout the four-mile “construction zone.”

There is rarely work being performed that is visible (except at the entrance to the quarry). My understanding is that a sign is in effect until the next, and typically in a construction zone the regular speed limit signs are covered so the Road Work speed limit stays in effect. What does one do in this situation? I don’t like being a yo-yo nor do I like the aggressive tailgating. — Bill

Answer: This is a question for the courts to decide, although it’s easy to figure out the right thing to do. If the construction zone is four miles long and the road work speed limit is 40 mph, it’s obvious that the 45 mph signs are an oversight. But is it possible to beat a speeding ticket by blaming Caltrans? Let us know if you try it.

Santa Rosa Traffic Court Commissioner Lawrence Ornell weighs in with his observations. “The purpose of speed limits is to provide for the reasonable safety of the motoring public,” he says.  “They provide the driver with the knowledge of what is generally the appropriate speed.

“That being said, each driver has the independent duty to assess the road conditions, the condition of their vehicle and their own condition.  With that assessment, drive at a safe speed.  If there is a sign that notifies drivers of the start and end of the construction zone and there are temporary speed signs, this puts the driver on notice that a reduced speed is prudent.  Keep in mind if there are workers on the road and/or debris present, 40 mph may well be unsafe.

“The best example is in snow country, driving 45 mph  in  45 zone is generally safe.  But if it starts to snow the driver must legally drive slower.  In heavy snow, 10 to 15 mph may be the safe speed.  In a whiteout, 0 is the safe speed.”

We found out more about the mysterious construction project from Caltrans spokesman Allyn Amask. It includes a creek realignment and installation of irrigation and plants.

“The work involves realigning existing storm drainage to direct flows to refugia and dispersal areas along Champlin Creek,” Amask said. “These areas are designed to retain storm water runoff so that creek levels do not have the sudden rise during storm events and offer wildlife habitat. Road work is scheduled to be completed in late October.”

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