Wyatt Sanders: Get rid of Troll Cities Lawtey & Waldo

September 10, 2014 20 comments Open printer friendly version of this article Print Article

As anyone who has ever made the trek down 301 to Gainesville can attest, the sheriff's of Waldo and Lawtey are major dicks. Both cities exist to milk traffic infraction money out of students traveling to school. Why not disband them? More after the jump.

Jacksonville’s troll city’s of the south

If you’re going to go anywhere southwest of Jacksonville, you’re likely going to pass through a couple city’s in the Florida’s countryside. Located an hour and a half southwest of Jacksonville is Gainesville, one of Florida’s Academic, and Athletic epicenters. The shortest route to Gainesville passes through a couple cities. Most notably: Waldo, Starke, Hampton, and Lawtey.  You might not think much of them, aside from a pit stop for gas, or fast food. But these cities think all the world of you. If you miss one of the eight or so times the speed limit changes and you accrue a speeding infraction, or any other moving violation, there’s a high likelihood a welcoming party donning a pair of bright red and blue lights will come to greet you.

This is in part, because there is so little economic activity in these cities, that to make up for local government revenue that would typically come from taxes, for these cities to survive financially they have to issue a high volume of citations. In fact in a recent disclosure about half of the annual $1 million of revenue in Waldo city came from traffic citations. A lot of people call cities like these speed traps, in fact there’s a billboard that a good samaritan has rented out for a couple years that warns motorists on their way from Jacksonville with the words “SPEED TRAP AHEAD.” AAA also named two of the five cities, Waldo, and Lawtey, on the way to Gainesville as  two of the nation’s worst speed traps. But I’d like to coin the term, as these cities use their location to assert tolls for revenue, that they should really be called troll cities.

I say this as economically, these troll cities are unable to provide many symbiotic services with their nearby municipal counterparts. They instead survive by leaching off of the economic activity that passes through their city limits. Similar to the woes of Waldo and Lawtey, is the Story of Hampton, the third city on the trek to Gainesville. Hampton alike with Waldo, and Lawtey, had imposed a speedtrap of sorts, and began trolling passers-by. Though not as profitable as it’s apprentices, Hampton was able to amount $600,000 in three years of issuing citations. The city was investigated for some fraudulent accounting, and it’s come under question whether Hampton should remain a city at all. Unrelated to the accounting audit, the city’s mayor was also busted in a drug bust for oxycontin.

It’s corruption and turmoil like what was mention previously that wreaks havoc on residents. Part of the reasons there’s so little economic activity in cities like these, is because no one wants to do business in a city of trolls. When a city like Jacksonville wants to encourage a business to set up shop in their city limits, they usually propose economic incentives like tax write offs. But setting up business in one of these cities would mean every drive to work you’d have to be overly careful, or risk racking up a toll of speeding tickets. Nevermind being a half hour away from any profitable market (you need customers with disposable income to sustain a business). A lot of the business in these cities derives from trucking. Fast food chains, and gas stations line the roadway more plentiful than wildflowers. How can a local police department, or city government profit from trucking traffic? Traffic tickets.

Traffic tickets, if you aren’t familiar, can also mature into a warrant for your arrest if you aren’t timely in paying them. So for instance, if you were a resident of Waldo city, where the per capita income was $15,693; if you missed one of the speed limit changes where it goes from 65MPH to 30MPH you’d likely owe about a week’s paycheck to the city on top of groceries, rent, insurance, and gas. It’s for reasons like this that resident’s of these cities have trouble finding meaningful employment. Moreover, it’s one of the reasons the cities have trouble collecting taxes. A municipality can only be as wealthy, or as impoverished as it’s constituents. Until these cities find a better source of revenue, they’ll likely continue to issue citations, shooting themselves in the foot.

Some people are looking for solutions to these troll cities, and I’d like to propose a look at a few. Over policing can be like an autoimmune disease, but under policing can lead to an increase in criminal activity. So the best approach is balanced, and modest in nature. I’ll go over a few of them here:

Why not make Route 301 an interstate?

Route 301 actually stretches 1100 miles from Florida to Delaware. Route 301 is a highway that travels between a bunch of states, much like interstate 95. But the route contains a bunch cities on the way to Gainesville. Because of this it has a lot of different entrances on to the roadway, meaning there’s going to be traffic traveling at 10MPH merging with traffic going 65MPH coming at a bone crushing  90-degree angle. This is typically why Interstates have very big signs, and roadways with big concrete barriers, for safety. For clarification: “A US highway is an all access highway, like a main road; it includes businesses, houses, and direct intersections. Top speeds on the average US highway are 55 mph. An interstate highway is a limited access highway that is meant for commute. It includes no property entrances, and interchanges at high speed. Speeds range from 65 to 75 mph (about 90 to 105 km/h)”^  Making route 301 an interstate would also mean that it would be governed by state troopers, and not the local police departments of Starke, Lawtey, Hampton, and Waldo. The biggest issue here is that the route passes directly through the cities, in fact, two of the cities town halls, and The Bradford county courthouse is located directly on US 301, and these many points of access create a bunch of different avenues for accidents. Changing Route 301 to an interstate could be done, but it’s more than a simple name change. Barriers, signs, and ramps would have to be erected to make it safe for the high speeds, which for a long stretch of road can get costly.

Why don’t we close the cities down?
Some people have proposed just out-right closing the cities down, as they’ve become such a nuisance. If that were to happen, the cities residents would then fall under Bradford county’s jurisdiction, and then they could continue enforcing the laws in the then unincorporated areas where the speed traps existed. This could alleviate a lot of the burden for travellers between Lawtey, Waldo, and Hampton. But there’s little chance of un-incorporating a city like Starke. However, proposed several years ago by the Florida Department of Transportation was a 70MPH 2-mile bypass around Starke city, which could actually be beneficial for the residents there, and commuters. Commuters could get through faster, with less likelihood of being ticketed, while the city wouldn’t have to deal with accidents and traffic from tractor trailers.

Residents were worried however that they wouldn’t be able to make revenue from commuters who would normally stop for a burger, or a shake. The Starke-bypass plan has since been forgotten.

Most recently, two of Waldo city’s Police chiefs were suspended for allegedly imposing citation quotas on their deputies. Citation quotas are illegal, as they inspire police to come up with creative explanations for how someone might have broken the law in order to satisfy a quota. It’s unclear what will happen in Waldo, but so long as Route 301 runs through these cities, don’t expect speed limits above 40MPH.