City Disputes Criticism That Toll Bridge Is Also “Speed Trap”

Lake Dallas' traffic enforcement near Lake Lewisville toll bridge draws fire

The Lake Lewisville toll bridge was built to relieve traffic, but some drivers say it functions more like a speed trap.

More than 1,500 drivers have been hit with speeding citations almost immediately upon exiting the bridge into the city of Lake Dallas.

The tickets are primarily written between the 500 and 600 block of East Swisher Road, where the bridge exits.

The posted speed limit on the bridge is 45 mph, but many drivers are often well above it. Lake Dallas police report tracking cars doing 100 mph on the bridge.

Frisco driver Bart Rudy was among those cited.

"He's parked at an angle facing eastbound, and I was traveling westbound on the bridge so he was shooting the radar down the bridge," he said.

The east side of the bridge is patrolled by the Denton County Sheriff's Department -- which has written only three tickets in the last two years.

"I think there is maybe a revenue opportunity that the city sees with the bridge," Rudy said.

City Manager Earl Berner and Police Chief Nick Ristagno refused requests for interviews.

"We are confident that there is no story of enforcement abuses here, and we prefer to let our records and enforcement tolerances speak for themselves," Ristagno said in an e-mail.

In an e-mail in September 2010 discussing complaints about its traffic enforcement, Berner said, "This is a safety issue primarily, but I'll admit the revenue is good to add to our finances."

Ruby, who paid his citation, said he had plenty of company on his court date.

He said he plans to speak to the City Council and the Chamber of Commerce.

"This should be a more convenient way for motorists to access the other side of the lake," he said. "Instead it has become a money enhancer, I feel, for the city of Lake Dallas."

The North Texas Tollway Authority said a speed study on the bridge is under way. The agency said it is considering raising the speed limit to 55 mph.

Lake Dallas: Our Tickets Are Legit
In February 2011, NBCDFW requested interviews by phone and in writing with Lake Dallas Police Chief Nick Ristagno and City Manager, Earl Berner.  It wasn't until two days after the story aired, which included Rudy's complaints about tickets on the bridge, that Lake Dallas responded with this news release titled Lake Dallas Citizen Safety Trumps Toll Bridge Speeders:

In 2009, Lake Dallas welcomed the opening of the North Texas Tollway Authority’s bridge over Lewisville Lake, connecting the Lake Cities to Little Elm and parts east but recently received criticism on a NBC-DFW March 9, 2011 television newscast. The report erroneously stated that the City of Lake Dallas has no jurisdiction on the bridge.  In fact, the jurisdiction of Lake Dallas includes approximately ½ mile of the western portion of the bridge.  The complaint by a Frisco resident ticketed for speeding prompted the report.
On January 29, 2011, Bart Rudy, not Ruby as reported, entered the Lake Dallas community at a high rate of speed and received a citation by a Lake Dallas Police Officer. Rudy alleges that Lake Dallas is running a speed trap on the bridge, leading viewers to believe that Lake Dallas indiscriminately and unscrupulously tickets anyone who drives immediately over the posted speed limit.  The report failed to mention that Mr. Rudy was driving more than twenty (20) miles per hour over the limit, a violation that would in all probability be ticketed on any street or highway in any city or state if observed by a police officer. Furthermore, Rudy reports a speeding fine of $310 but fails to mention that the amount included additional, required fees he chose to pay for deferred disposition to avoid the reporting of the speeding violation to the State of Texas.
"The North Texas Tollway Authority reports that over five (5) million trips have occurred across the bridge since it opened in August of 2009 and the police department has issued citations for 1,500 violations over the posted speed limit – that’s less than 3/10ths of 1% of the total trips cited for violating the posted speed,” said Lake Dallas Chief of Police Nick Ristagno, a 19-year veteran of the police department. “Furthermore, the average speed ticketed was 14 miles per hour over the posted speed limit, a more than fair enforcement tolerance by any standard.”
As part of their newscast, reporters drove the bridge over Lewisville Lake at the posted speed and admittedly experienced first-hand drivers exceeding the speed limit. “We accepted the bridge into our community as a gateway to the east but, not at the expense of the safety to the citizens of Lake Dallas,” stated Ristagno.  “In 2010, over 30% of the citations issued by the department were only warnings that carried no fines or penalties – our goal is safety, not money; otherwise, the department would issue no warnings,” said Ristagno. “We ask only that motorists and visitors please obey all of our laws when entering, visiting, or leaving Lake Dallas. Our mission is to protect everyone through the enforcement of laws and we owe that to our citizens.”

Rudy contends before he exited the bridge he had seen the officer and the posted 45 mph limit and had slowed to the posted speed limit.

Editor's Note: A previous version of this story incorrectly identified Bart Rudy as Bart Ruby and reported that Rudy was also going 61 mph, he was going 66 mph. NBC DFW regrets these errors.

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