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Disputed speed limit cut likely on West Beach Rd.

A section of West Beach Road on North Whidbey may undergo a couple of safety-related changes.

Residents of West Beach, mainly those north of Fort Nugent Road, have been lobbying Island County officials for years to lower the speed limit on a stretch of the road. Officials have resisted the effort, until now.

In addition, Island County Public Works held a meeting last week to discuss a proposal to widen a 1,000-foot strip of West Beach Road, from the intersection with Sandusky Road to the beach overlook on West Beach Road. The project would make the road safer for pedestrians and bikers.

Bill Oakes, county public works director, said it appears that county commissioners will likely pass a measure to reduce the speed limit during the Aug. 17 meeting. The proposal is to move the current 40 mph zone near Sandusky Road southward, into the 50 mph zone.

Oakes is not in favor of the reduction, though he said it’s not the first time complaints have trumped the science of setting speed limits.

“I recommended against it before and I recommended against it this time,” he said.

Oakes said speed limits are based on a national standard, which sets the speed at 85 percent of the speed that is actually traveled. The goal is to have safe speed and efficient travel on the county’s byways. He said traffic studies on West Beach show there’s no reason to lower the speed limit.

But residents presented the commissioners with a petition for the speed reduction. They have long complained about the danger of speeding cars and the difficulty of getting out of driveways safely.

The accidents haven’t made the residents feel better. Over the last year, three roll-over accidents occurred on West Beach Road; the vehicles ended up on people’s front lawns.

It looks like the West Beach Road residents and county engineers agree that the road widening project is a good idea. The residents had a lot of questions about the project during the recent meeting, but they appeared satisfied with the answers.

The main concerns seemed to be drainage and increased road noise because of the loss of trees in the right-of-way.

“We all know the worst part about living out there is road noise,” said Jerry Homola, husband of County Commissioner Angie Homola.

Doug Holbert, a county civil engineer, said a wall with angled blocks could help attenuate noise somewhat, as would tree plantings.

Holbert explained that the purpose of the proposed road project is to add shoulders to the road. Paved shoulders reduce the number of accidents by giving cars space to recover if they stray off the road.

Also, the wider shoulders will give bikers and walkers a safer space.

Holbert said the project, which would probably take two months, will begin next spring if it’s approved by county officials.

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