Bright signs now warn Interstate 70 drivers that fines will be doubled for speeding through the region's latest Travel Safe Zone, but at least one municipality already has been doubling fines for months on a short stretch of I-70.
In St. Ann, the westernmost city in the new zone, officers started handing out $200 tickets in July. St. Ann and seven other cities launched an "accident-reduction corridor" over the summer, announcing they would coordinate speed enforcement and impose stiffer fines.
"It's helped out immensely," St. Ann Police Chief Robert Schrader said of his city's nearly 5½-month-old crackdown on speeding. "We are going to continue doing it. I want everyone to know we are out there writing tickets."
At the request of several north St. Louis County municipalities, the Missouri Department of Transportation posted signs on Dec. 20 declaring seven miles of I-70 between Goodfellow Boulevard in St. Louis and Lambert-St. Louis International Airport a Travel Safe Zone. Portable electronic signs reinforce that message.
But don't be lulled to sleep by the vanilla-sounding name. Just as in similarly named zones in the St. Louis area, speeders face doubled fines on the highway. However, no statutes cover such an "accident-reduction corridor" designated by municipalities. State law does regulate Travel Safe Zones — basically the same thing under a different name.
The law provides that double fines 'shall only be assessed by the court if the Department of Transportation has erected signs upon or around a Travel Safe Zone which are clearly visible from the highway" and warn of the doubled fines.
Schrader said his city can legally collect higher fines under its own municipal ordinance. Information on fines in other municipalities participating accident-reduction program wasn't immediately available Wednesday.
St. Ann police write the $200 tickets for anyone caught doing 71 mph or more on its three-quarter-mile stretch of I-70, where the speed limit is 60 mph. Drive over 80 mph, and you'll get a mandatory court appearance. Motorists caught doing 90 mph or above face arrest, he said.
"We have had three or four over 100 mph," he said. "It's silly. Why are they doing that?"
Schrader said there were 42 accidents on I-70 within the city limits between Jan. 1, 2010, and July 19 — about the time the eight-city speeding crackdown began. Since July 19, there have been 11 accidents, he said.
Some local law enforcement officials expressed concern in June that the I-70 crackdown on speeding was a precursor to installing speed cameras on the highway. St. Ann was the first municipality in the region to police speed limits using photo enforcement in a school zone.
Since then, Charlack has trained speed cameras on a short stretch of Interstate 170.
On I-70, the highway speed limit goes from 60 mph west of I-170 to 55 mph between I-170 and the St. Louis city limits.
The Missouri Department of Transportation has posted 18 signs on I-70. Fifteen are the orange-yellow Travel Safe Zone signs, and three are smaller signs that mark the end points of the zone. MoDOT officials have placed electronic message boards along the highway to remind motorists they are entering a double-fine zone.
Larry Welty, MoDOT's area engineer for north St. Louis County, said a state analysis showed that fatal or disabling crashes on that stretch of I-70 exceeded expectations for a highway of its type.
A Post-Dispatch review of Missouri Highway Patrol accident data for the same stretch of I-70 showed speeding was a leading cause of accidents, but that other factors — such as driver inattention, unsafe lane changes and tailgating — also contributed.
Further, the accidents rose at a time when the Missouri Department of Transportation had closed a stretch of Highway 40 (Interstate 64) between Interstate 270 and Kingshighway. The nearly two-year closure caused traffic levels to increase on other highways, including I-70.
By publicizing the zone, Welty said, the hope is that motorists will slow down.
"Once word gets out on that, hopefully that will reinforce good behavior," Welty said.
In June 2009, MoDOT established a Travel Safe Zone on Highway 40 (Interstate 64) between Mason and Ballas roads. Town and County police said at the time that the number of fatal and injury accidents on the eastbound lanes of Highway 40 there were about twice the level it had been on Interstate 270 through the city.