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County cuts West Beach speed limit

Ever since a woman was killed in a car accident nearly a decade ago, residents on a northern stretch of Whidbey’s West Beach Road have made concerted efforts to convince Island County officials to lower the speed limit.

They finally got their way Monday morning when county commissioners unanimously voted to decrease the speed limit from 50 mph to 40 mph on the stretch of asphalt. The slower-speed zone will now run from the northernly beginning of the road, at the intersection with Crosby Road, to a point 1,500 feet north of the intersection with Fort Nugent Road.

Seven residents of the area spoke at the hearing, all urging the commissioners to drop the speed limit. They stressed the danger that speeding cars pose, especially for pedestrians and children who frequent the area.

Lynda Jonas described it as “an extremely dangerous strip of road.” She argued that the speed limit should actually be 20 mph.

“I’m shocked that the speed is 40 miles per hour with those houses so close to the road,” she said, referring to the area where the speed limit is already 40 mph.

GayLynn Beighton advocated for the the speed limit change, but also suggested a series of other ideas for the road.

“We respectfully suggest that the Island County commissioners not allow West Beach Road to be a default arterial road for north / southbound commuters and trucks,” she said. “It is a steep and foggy road that runs along a unique, scenic critical ecosystem along the west coast of Whidbey Island.”

Commissioner Angie Homola pointed out that she lives in the area of the reduced speed, but she stressed that she has consistently supported the lowering of speed limits in rural areas of the county. She said the highway is for speedy travel, while motorists should take it easy in the countryside.

“We need to think about our quality of life,” she said.

Homola detailed a long, harrowing list of accidents that have occurred on the road in recent years.

Island County Public Works Director Bill Oakes previously recommended against the lowering of the speed limit based on traffic studies on the road, but he didn’t have much to say Monday.

Commissioners John Dean and Helen Price Johnson said the road was a unique case when it comes to setting speed limits. They pointed out that there’s a popular beach access at the bottom of a hill that some motorists like to speed on.

“This is one of the very few times that I go against his advice,” Dean said, referring to Oakes’ recommendation.

In addition, several of the people in the audience also spoke in opposition to a proposal from public works to widen a portion of the road in an effort to make it safer. Beighton suggested that rumble strips and modest pervious shoulders would be less expensive, better for the environment and would save trees — including a redwood — from chopping.

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