By Jared Arnold/The Independent Staff
The speed limit on a section of East Main Ave. and Flowery Trail Rd. —between Ehorn Ln. and Cottonwood Creek Rd.— has once again been increased from 25 to 35 MPH after a 6-1 vote by the Chewelah City Council last Wednesday evening, Oct. 5. Councilman Payton Norvell had the lone dissenting vote, but provided no argument against the proposal.
The vote came after a recommendation by the Public Safety Committee, led by councilman John May, and a request made last month from Chewelah resident Joe Newbury who asked the council to consider raising the speed limit on that stretch of road. Newbury’s written request made detailed comparisons of Flowery Trail Rd. inside the city limits and several county roads near Chewelah, including Alm Lane, Cozy Nook, and Sand Canyon. The county roads listed by Newbury all have 35 MPH speed limits.
The Washington Model Traffic Ordinance, which was adopted by Chewelah in 1986, sets the maximum speed limit for city streets at 25 MPH and for county roads at 50 MPH. There is, however, provision in the law that allows local governments to set speed limits above or below those maximums, after a “engineering and traffic investigation” has been completed.
Chewelah Police Officer David Watts presented the council with a report detailing traffic speeds in that portion of Flowery Trail from June 2015.
Watts’ report showed data from a week in June 2015 that recorded the speed of 4419 vehicles traveling in both directions. The data revealed that approximately 90% of the vehicles were exceeding the posted 25 MPH speed limit and that vehicles in the “85th percentile” – or the bottom 85 percent of all vehicles – were traveling 38 MPH or less.
He explained that the “[85th percentile] is what departments of transportation use to determine what speed limit they want to put on a road.”
“[A company representative told me] it would be very appropriate for a speed limit to be 35 MPH on a stretch of road if your 85th percentile of cars is [at 38 MPH]” Watts related to the council about a conversation he had with the company that provided the data recording device.
He also showed the council data regarding the number of traffic tickets written by the police department during a period from August 28, 2015 to July 31, 2016. The report showed 49 citations, mostly for speeding. Violations ranged from 14 to 29 MPH over the speed limit.
“If we wrote 49 tickets, we probably stopped a couple hundred cars in that timeframe,” Watts explained. “We issue a decent amount of warnings in town. We try to give a lot of leniency to people.”
Watts reported that there have been two accidents in that area since 2010, a hit-and-run involving a truck and a pole and a one-car rollover in icy conditions.
Councilman May thanked Watts for his report. “That is a tremendous piece of information that you got out to us and I know it must have been pretty time consuming. It was very, very thorough,” he said.
May’s motion to increase the speed limit included a recommendation to the county to decrease the speed limit from 50 to 35 MPH near the cemeteries and suggested that a ‘School bus stop ahead’ sign be posted.
The last time the council changed the speed limit to 35 MPH on this section of road was on July 5, 2012 but the decision was reversed two weeks later after several citizens complained and a letter submitted by residents in the neighborhood opposed the higher speed limit.
Two of those neighbors, Frank Long and John Trampush, once again testified against the higher speed limit at the council’s open forum last month. Both men, along with Pastor Jeff Lewis, cited safety concerns in the area including pedestrians, children, pets, and houses close to the road.
Other council business included a ordinance amending the city’s 2016 budget. Among the changes are an additional $7,382 for attorney fees in the city’s case against Tim and Patti Kaiser; $1,018 in advertising costs for the new Hearing Examiner position; $4,000 for mowing services at Pioneer Cemetery; and $5,000 to reconstruct the bell tower at city hall.
The council also approved a Reciprocal Maintenance Agreement with Washington State Dept. of Transportation (WSDOT), giving use of the city’s loader in exchange for winter sand mix from WSDOT for the winter months.
Mayor Dorothy Knauss updated the council on the Association of Washington Cities’ 2017 legislative priorities. Knauss currently serves in the At-Large #4 position on the AWC Board of Directors, representing small cities in eastern Washington. The group’s priorities for the upcoming legislative session include: 1) Update the Public Records Act so cities can continue to provide open and transparent government services to Washington residents but also stem the abuse of the system; 2) Support and enhance action to increase affordable housing, decrease homelessness, and improve a strained mental and behavioral health system; 3) Revitalize the key infrastructure assistance programs to support job creation, our health and safety, economic vitality and quality of life; 4) Respect city-local authority with regard to home rule, revenue, taxes, and licensing. City officials are elected and must have the authority to solve local challenges; 5) Maintain city-state partnership for shared revenues to fund key services; 6) Provide adequate and sustainable funding to maintain high quality statewide training for law enforcement personnel; and 7) Maintain funding for the Municipal Research Service Center.
The next regular council meeting is scheduled for Wednesday, Oct. 19, 6:30 p.m.