Stephanie College was surprised last month when she rounded a curve on River Watch Parkway and saw a sheriff’s deputy aiming a radar gun at her Infiniti M35.
She was more surprised when she was pulled over.
“I was in between a minivan and an SUV of some kind, so I thought he was targeting me because of my car,” said College, who takes River Watch home every day after work.
The officer explained that he was standing behind the 45 mph speed limit sign when he clocked her going 62.
“I said, ‘No, I’m pretty sure it is 55 here,’ ” she said. “I still didn’t believe him. I never saw the sign.”
The sign was there, but it was wrong.
For months the speed limit on that portion of River Watch was marked incorrectly, without the knowledge of the Richmond County Sheriff’s Office. Police say the tickets they issued during that time are valid, but some drivers are wondering whether they should have been charged for violating an incorrect speed limit.
Augusta Traffic Engineer Steve Cassell said the lower speed limit was posted by a contractor working on improvements to the Augusta Canal tow path.
Cassell said the contractor in charge of the project had authorization to reduce the speed limit from 55 mph to 45 mph, but only during specific hours and under certain conditions.
According to a plan approved by the Georgia Department of Transportation, the speed limit could be reduced between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m., but not during peak traffic times, such as when drivers were leaving work.
“They really should have covered up the 45 mph signs otherwise,” Cassell said. “That speed was just to be in effect when there was a lane closed. It’s just when they are bringing in certain heavy equipment.”
Cassell said the contractor misunderstood the authorization and posted the new signs, probably in late February.
Russell Foster, the project manager for the Augusta Canal Authority, said the lower speed limit should have been invoked on only two instances.
“The contractor just made a mistake,” he said. “We corrected it as soon as we were aware of it.”
Foster said Cassell notified him that the signs were in error June 3, and the contractor covered them with black plastic bags the same day.
Before that, deputies were enforcing the posted 45 mph limit.
Sheriff’s Lt. Ramone Lamkin said traffic officers weren’t aware of the problem with the signs. He said the effort on River Watch was part of general traffic enforcement.
“It would have been nice if someone had let us know,” Lamkin said. “We just try to work proactively to slow people down.”
He wasn’t sure how many speeding tickets were issued in the past month or so on River Watch because the office doesn’t track citations by street and most of those issued have already been sent to State Court.
Since the black bags were placed over the signs, Lamkin said, his officers have been enforcing the 55 mph limit. Sheriff’s Lt. Calvin Chew said fewer than 20 speeding tickets had been issued on River Watch in the past 10 days – the length of time citations are kept at the sheriff’s office before being forwarded to court.
State Court Solicitor Kellie McIntyre did not return messages seeking information about the tickets.
College said she thinks that if the speed limit was wrong, then she was ticketed incorrectly. Court officials told her the fine would be $341.
“I’m going to fight it,” she said. She expects to make an argument before a judge July 15.
Lamkin said the tickets should stand because they were issued in good faith by officers enforcing a posted speed limit.
“As long as the DOT approved it and it was posted, we can enforce it,” he said.