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Oak Harbor looks at lowering speeds on two roads

Oak Harbor Police Officer Mel Lolmaugh photographs the damage of a Chevy Cobalt that rear-ended a Chevy Silverado pickup truck along N. Oak Harbor Street. - Jenny Manning/Whidbey News-Times
Oak Harbor Police Officer Mel Lolmaugh photographs the damage of a Chevy Cobalt that rear-ended a Chevy Silverado pickup truck along N. Oak Harbor Street.
— image credit: Jenny Manning/Whidbey News-Times

Less than 24 hours after the Oak Harbor City Council set a public hearing date to consider reducing the speed limit along sections of N. Oak Harbor and Heller streets, a Chevrolet Cobalt rear-ended a Chevy Silverado pickup truck in the middle of the busy area.

The driver of the Cobalt was cited for following too closely, but left behind a 52-foot skid mark at the intersection of N. Oak Harbor Street and Crosby Avenue, according to the Oak Harbor Police Department.

It’s just this sort of accident some city officials are hoping to prevent. The City Council will hold a public hearing to update a section of the city’s municipal code that regulates speed limits within city limits at their next meeting on Tuesday, March 2 at 6 p.m.

Aside from Highway 20, most motor vehicle accidents occur on N. Oak Harbor Street, city Engineer Eric Johnston said.

In 2007, seven accidents occurred at the intersection of N. Oak Harbor Street and W. Whidbey Avenue, according to the Oak Harbor Transportation Plan.

“Certainly safety is a consideration,” Johnston told the City Council Tuesday.

The Oak Harbor Police Department first approached Johnston last summer with concerns over the speed limits of several busy Oak Harbor roadways and inconsistently posted speed limit signs.

An angry, ticketed motorist challenged a ticket he received on Heller Road, which kicked off the whole discussion. The motorist felt that the speed limit sign was in the wrong place.

Heller is a one-and-a-half-mile street with four different speed limits, Johnston said. Currently, from Swantown northward, the speed limit goes from 40 to 35 mph near the W. Whidbey Avenue intersection to 20 in the school zone, back to 40, then up to 45 when the road passes into the county.

City engineers responded to the police department’s concerns with a speed and traffic study. It’s no surprise the study’s results support reduced speed limits in the areas of concern, Johnston said.

Johnston introduced a “two-fold” bill to City Council members Tuesday. The first part of the bill will “clean up” a section of the city’s municipal code to consistently regulate speed limits. If approved, the speed limits along two popular Oak Harbor arterial roads will change within a week. The cost to replace the sign will be “a couple hundred dollars,” said Johnston.

The current 40 mph speed limit on Heller Street from Swantown Avenue to just north of the city limits will be reduced to 35 mph; N. Oak Harbor Street from Seventh Avenue to just north of the city limits will drop from 35 to 30 mph.

The proposal raised some concerns among council members.

Councilman Jim Campbell wondered why the engineering department chose to focus only on Oak Harbor and Heller streets.

“Why aren’t we doing it all at one time?” he asked, adding a few suggestions such as Whidbey Avenue and Highway 20 near Wal-Mart to the list of possible speed limit changes.

Johnston agreed.

“We will certainly look at other streets,” he said, though he said Highway 20 would not be one of them. The city of Oak Harbor does not have authority to change the limits along the state highway, although the speed was reduced from 50 to as low as 30 in some areas several years ago.

If and when the bill is approved, the Oak Harbor Police Department will allow drivers a grace period of “about two months” to get used to the new speed limits, Police Chief Rick Wallace said.

Community Events, April 2014

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