published Saturday, June 16th, 2012

Police targets speeders on Decherd Boulevard

Decherd, Tenn., Police Chief Ross Peterson is looking for solutions to increasingly heavy traffic and speeders on Decherd Boulevard, the main drag through the Franklin County town. Here, late afternoon traffic enters the town of Decherd from the south where speed limits are 30 mph.
Decherd, Tenn., Police Chief Ross Peterson is looking for solutions to increasingly heavy traffic and speeders on Decherd Boulevard, the main drag through the Franklin County town. Here, late afternoon traffic enters the town of Decherd from the south where speed limits are 30 mph.
Photo by Ben Benton.

DECHERD, Tenn. -- Traffic at peak periods on Decherd Boulevard is so heavy and fast that police can't safely pursue speeders that whiz along at 15 to 20 mph over the limit, the town's police chief said.

Chief Ross Peterson said he's looking for solutions to a growing problem that revolves around speeding, a major factor in the severity of injuries in traffic accidents.

"I'm really looking at studying different ways on how we can decrease crashes," Peterson said.

Decherd Boulevard, U.S. Highway 41A's piece of the main drag through town, has four traffic lanes with a turn lane down the center and wide shoulders on either side. The road is lined with businesses and crosshatched with intersections that the chief says spell accidents if drivers are going too fast.

"If they were going slower, they would have a better reaction time," Peterson said.

Decherd Boulevard AutoZone store manager Will Bullock said that, despite the size of the town, about 2,200 people, traffic at times seems as heavy as in Murfreesboro (population 108,755 in 2010) where he used to live.

Bullock, 27, gets to work about 6:45 a.m. when traffic is light, but he sees plenty of fast driving.

"I've noticed some people go by me pretty quickly. They kind of zoom by," Bullock said.

Decherd's finest could use some help, Bullock said, though he wasn't sure what the best fix would be.

He offered a strategy he thought was used in "Mayberry" on the old Andy Griffith television show.

"I guess they could drop the speed limit so that when you do speed, it'll be the regular speed," he said.

Peterson said Decherd officers have handheld radar guns, but they have to fight their way into the heavy traffic to chase down speeders, and that's unsafe for patrolmen and civilian drivers alike.

One of the ideas the chief looked at recently is a handheld "Light Detection And Ranging," or LIDAR, gun that officers can use to gauge speed and take a time-stamped photograph of the vehicle at the same time.

Unlike with red-light and some speed cameras, officers using LIDAR are present when the images are captured. They review the images -- as does the LIDAR vender company -- before a citation is mailed to the registered owner of the vehicle. That keeps the officer out of heavy traffic, according to Peterson.

"That's just one idea we looked at," he said, noting he didn't know whether city leaders liked the idea enough to settle on anything without looking at other alternatives.

"All I'm interested in is finding a way to decrease the number of crashes," he said. Peterson said he's open to any cost-effective ideas for slowing speeders and improving driver safety.

about Ben Benton...

Ben Benton is a news reporter at the Chattanooga Times Free Press. He covers Southeast Tennessee and previously covered North Georgia education. Ben has worked at the Times Free Press since November 2005, first covering Bledsoe and Sequatchie counties and later adding Marion, Grundy and other counties in the northern and western edges of the region to his coverage. He was born and raised in Cleveland, Tenn., a graduate of Bradley Central High School. Benton ...

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