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Highway speeds won’t be cut in Coupeville

Once again, town officials lobbied the Washington State Department of Transportation to lower the 55 mph speed limit on Highway 20 through Coupeville.

Once again, transportation officials are going to keep the status quo, saying traffic conditions on Highway 20 around Coupeville don’t warrant a change.

“We’ve just initiated a new round of inquiry,” Coupeville Mayor Nancy Conard said, explaining she still gets calls from residents about the high speed limit on Highway 20. She thought it would be a good time to see if the speed limit on the highway could change considering the changes that have taken place at the intersection with Main Street in recent years. Several years ago a crosswalk was installed and a second crosswalk at South Main Street recently became functional. The newest crosswalk connects the Kettles Trail with the Rhododendron Trail.

Coupeville is the only town on the island where the speed limit is 55 miles per hour. Oak Harbor, Freeland, Bayview and Clinton all have lower limits through their communities.

Conard hoped the latest inquiry would cause transportation officials to lower the speed limit or at least install flashing yellow lights on the approaches to Coupeville.

The Washington State Department of Transportation completed a speed study of Highway 20 last month. The results indicate the majority of motorists are driving under the 55 mph speed limit around Coupeville and the numbers of vehicles on the road has slightly declined in recent years.

“There really hasn’t been much of a change out there based on the studies we’ve done,” said Dustin Terpening, WSDOT spokesman.

WSDOT completed its latest speed study in June. The study found that 85 percent of the motorists are traveling 51 miles per hour. Transportation officials look at the 85 percentile number as the basis for determining a speed limit.

Dina Swires, traffic engineer for WSDOT, said the speed of motorists and the numbers of drivers on Highway 20 in Coupeville has slightly declined over the years.

She added that lowering the speed limit could make conditions on the highway more dangerous by creating passing situations, possibly sparking “road rage” incidents.

Despite the high speed limit, Swires said the area has a low traffic collision rate. In the past five years, 14 collisions have occurred on Highway 20 around Coupeville and 11 of those happened at the lighted intersection with Main Street.

Also, Swires said, there are few intersections around Coupeville compared with other areas of Whidbey Island. For example, the highway around Freeland has more curves and more intersections than Coupeville. She also noted WSDOT conducted a similar speed study in Bayview, and the study found the conditions there warranted reducing the speed limit to 45 miles per hour.

But for Coupeville, motorists can continue breezing through at the maximum highway speed limit of 55 mph for the foreseeable future.

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