Island County slows down on speed limit changes

A sign put up by Coles Road resident Jean Knapp shows the number of deer killed by her house over the past decade. The Island County commissioners are in favor of a speed limit reduction on Coles Road but it did not include the section in front of her house.  - Justin Burnett / The Record
A sign put up by Coles Road resident Jean Knapp shows the number of deer killed by her house over the past decade. The Island County commissioners are in favor of a speed limit reduction on Coles Road but it did not include the section in front of her house.
— image credit: Justin Burnett / The Record

Citizen concern triumphed over engineering when the Island County commissioners found several proposed speed limit reductions wanting.

The board informally agreed Nov. 19 that the speed limits of three rural roads on South Whidbey and another on Camano Island all needed to be lowered but they did not support all of the increments proposed by Public Works traffic experts.

Although their recommendations were based on engineering formulas which have been used for decades, the board heard from a handful of worried residents and was unanimous that sometimes other factors need to be considered.

“I do appreciate the work of the engineering department … you put a lot of time and energy into these studies, you use the engineering and the science and then we sometimes lean in the direction that tends more to respond to pedestrians and citizens who maybe don’t fall into that scientific category,” said Commissioner Angie Homola, who has championed several other speed limit reductions on North Whidbey. “I apologize for the stress it puts you through.”

Proposed were reductions on Bob Galbreath and Wilkinson roads, from 50 mph to 45 mph between Surface and Wycliff roads; Coles Road, from 50 mph to 40 mph between Strider and Brooks Hill roads; and Lowell Point Road, from 50 mph to 40 mph between Mountain View Road and the end of the county road.

The reductions were based on months of work by Public Works’ traffic engineers, who put each section of roadway to a series of tests. They looked at road geometry, curves and sight distance. It also determined the speed that most motorists are comfortable with while traveling the roads.

But, several Wilkinson Road residents who attended the meeting complained the proposal doesn’t go far enough, especially for people who access the road from private blind driveways.

Russ and Claudia Ramsey have lived there for 45 years. People seem to be driving faster than they used to, possibly on their way to the ferry, and it has become frightening, they said.

“From out of nowhere they seem to come,” Russ Ramsey said.

“It used to be a nice little road,” Claudia Ramsey said. “It’s become a speedway.”

“It’s scary, it’s very scary,” Keith Gunnar echoed.

He called the proposed 5 mph reduction “almost laughable” and that county officials should be less concerned with inconveniencing motorists and more worried about resident safety.

“The citizens who live on Wilkinson Road, which includes hundreds of people, should have more say about the speed limit than what the engineers say,” Gunnar said.

He produced a petition with about 45 signatures, requesting the speed limit be reduced to 35 mph from Surface to Wycliff roads and to 40 mph between Wycliff and Lunberg roads, which is where the current 50 mph begins.

Gunnar noted that Wilkinson Road has been the location of several fatal accidents over the years, including a horrific crash last year that resulted in the deaths of three young men.

After hearing the testimony, Homola suggested a compromise by proposing a 40 mph speed limit from Surface Road to Lunberg Street. If that latter proves insufficient, the problem might be further mitigated with devices such as flashing or radar speed limit signs.

Commissioner Helen Price Johnson agreed, saying the public has made it clear that arterial roads leading into Langley are seeing heavier use and that comes into conflict with walkers or residents leaving their driveways.

She noted that the county does try to work on vegetation control but it’s a losing battle due to budgetary limitations.

“The brush is winning,” she said.

Commissioner Kelly Emerson supported the new proposed reduction, while suggesting one of her own. Following comments from a Camano Island resident, she asked that Lowell Road also be reduced further to 35 mph. Her request was likewise supported by her fellow commissioners.

The only reduction proposed by staff that received board support was that of Coles Road. Both Langley Police Chief Randy Heston and Public Works Director Challis Stringer spoke in favor of the reduction.

It only applies to about a quarter mile of roadway, which some residents say is unfortunate. Jean Knapp, who has been keeping tabs on the number of deer killed by her yard, said it should be reduced all the way to Highway 525.

“There is no reason on this planet to be driving that fast on a road like this,” said Knapp, in a later interview.

Public Works Director Bill Oakes said the changes would delay approval of the reductions. As they were built into a single ordinance, each would need to be broken up and have its own public hearing.

Also, by law, an engineering study is required by state law any time a speed limit is changed, which means the proposed reduction to Lunberg Street will need to be looked at as it was not included in the Wilkinson Road studies.


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