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.”


Follow the Road Warrior on Twitter at @PDRoadWarrior.


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  1. Jeff McDonald

    Speaking of speed limit sign confusion:

    What is the deal with the speed limit in the area of Highway 101 at Fulton?

    In particular, heading south at the Airway Ext there is a sign with a blank for speed, and right under it is a light sign that provides erroneous speeds, with the additional signage to “Slow Down”.

    OK – slow down to “WHAT”…?

    Traffic is still traveling at least 65 in that area (both North and South bound).

    I was of the understanding from a few weeks ago that the construction contractor was to install speed limit signs for this “supposed” construction zone” – hasn’t happened as of yesterday afternoon (Thursday, 18 July 2013).

    July 19th, 2013 2:33 pm

  2. Craig

    I find Court Commissioner Ornell’s comment interesting. California seems to have an odd habit of sticking 55 MPH signs on perfectly good two lane road where I believe one could safely be within the limits of the basic speed law and still travel 65. [Willing to argue that too . ] I’m endlessly amused at driving US 395 from Oregon into CA where right at the borderline (southbound), after suffering 55 on perfectly good road, in CA the speed limit jumps to 65 and the road deteriorates. Speed limits, in my view, seem to often defy the logics of observable conditions; of course, only to be outdone by motorists with no understanding of the basic speed law.

    July 19th, 2013 3:50 pm

  3. Jeff T

    While I’m not familiar with Stage Gulch, we must all remember that there are very strict laws (See MUTCD- the Manual for Uniform Traffic Control Devices) governing road signs, markings and traffic lights. If the signs are, indeed, contradictory, one should fight any citation received there. The MUTCD exists to eliminate confusion on all US roads.

    July 19th, 2013 3:53 pm

  4. Jeff McDonald

    So there are now orange 55mph signs in place above the flashing speed signs this afternoon…:-)

    July 19th, 2013 5:51 pm

  5. Kim

    I have been wondering the same thing a bout the “blank” speed limit sign with the flashing one right below it telling the traffic speed or reading “slow down”. What is the speed limit? Everyone is still doing at least 65 through this section.

    July 19th, 2013 5:54 pm

  6. ER

    Speaking of speed limit signs, or lack thereof, when you drive west on East Railroad Avenue (near Penngrove), from Petaluma Hill Road to Old Redwood Highway, there are no speed limit signs until you get to some houses, then there are two 45mph signs very close to each other. Weird!

    July 19th, 2013 9:28 pm

  7. nospam

    not surprising, they are designed to trap you and get money.

    taxes are doubled in “construction” zones, so expect much more patrols there. I even saw a cop with a radar gun at 8pm on a sunday night trying to trap people in a construction zone.

    best thing to do if you see ANY construction at all or orange signs assume it’s 55 mph. try to stay in the right lane though because people are still going 75-85.

    July 29th, 2013 10:31 am

  8. Bill

    Since we’re talking about speed limits. I believe the person who places the radar trailer in different locations for the SRPD needs more training. It was placed on Chanate Rd. a short distance from the Fountain Grove turn off. I believe the speed limit in this area is 35mph. The trailer was placed under an orange caution sign that said 30 mph. And the sign on the trailer was set at 30 mpg. Again I am pretty sure the speed limit is 35 so the sign on the trailer should have said 35 mph. This was probably not the best place for the trailer to be deployed.

    July 31st, 2013 6:26 pm

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