County resists speed change

After a young woman was killed last year in an accident on West Beach Road, a couple of people who live in the area started going door-to-door with a petition asking the county to reduce the speed limit in a section of the road from 50 to 40 mph.

Romilly Cassida and Leon Lewis easily collected 156 signatures, but then they were surprised to find resistance to the idea in Island County government.

Commissioner Mac McDowell, for example, points to a recent traffic study that doesn't support the idea of reducing the speed limit on the road between Sunset Beach and Hastie Lake Road.

"People are still going to drive the speed they feel comfortable with," he said. "If you reduce the limit, you're just going to create a speed trap and perhaps give people a false sense of security, which will make it more dangerous."

The real problem, McDowell speculates, is that drivers are speeding on West Beach Road. He says the solution is for deputies to patrol the area more aggressively and he's urged Sheriff Mike Hawley to make that happen.

In response to the citizen complaints, the Sheriff's Office recently set up a speed reader board on the road to remind people not to speed. Hawley will also meet with area residents on Tuesday to talk about the problem.

Cassida claims many people who live along West Beach, particularly in Even Down, have trouble leaving their driveways safely.

In addition to change in speed limit, the petition asks that the intersection at West Beach and Fort Nugent roads be switched from a one-way to a three-way to slow traffic. Cassida said in the last few months there's been an increase in drivers crashing into the barrier at the intersection.

Cassida and Lewis submitted the petition to Island County and didn't hear back until they were invited to an informal meeting in August. By then, a new traffic study of the stretch of road had been largely completed.

County traffic engineer Joseph Araucto is in the process of finalizing the traffic study and will recommend that the speed limit remain the same, but deputy patrols of the area should increase.

Araucto said the standard practice used nationwide to gauge speed limits is to measure how fast people are traveling on the road. He said 85 percent of people behind the wheel are responsible drivers who will travel at the speed that is appropriate for the existing conditions of the road, including the sight distance and width of the blacktop. To set the speed limit any lower, Araucto said, would "penalize the people who are driving responsibly out there."

According to McDowell, West Beach Road, Heller Road and Highway 20 are designated as the "arterials" for the north end of the island. The road is used by many drivers who want to avoid traveling on the highway through the city, and people heading to work at the Navy base.

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