Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Higher speed limits in Bellevue?

Northern stretch of Main Street could rise to 35 mph

Express Staff Writer

Based on traffic-speed studies, and in response to pressure from the state Legislature, the city of Bellevue will likely have to raise its speed limits.

Idaho Transportation Department District Engineer Devin Rigby presented proposed speed-limit changes to the Bellevue City Council Thursday, saying his job was to “balance safety with public needs” on Highway 75, which also serves as Main Street as it passes through Bellevue.

He did not say when the speed limits would be raised, but indicated it would not be this summer.

The council has for 15 years controlled speed limits in the city, thanks to a law sponsored by Rep. Wendy Jaquet, D-Ketchum, that gave municipalities control of speed limits on state highways in cities.

That law was repealed recently, due in part to pressure from Rep. Leon Smith, R-Twin Falls, a member of the House Transportation and Defense Committee. 

“If any accidents are identified as
speed-related, we will be back here.”
Devin Rigby
Idaho Department of Transportation

Rigby said the Legislature was determined to wrest control of speed limits on state highways back from cities, six of which lowered speed limits in south-central Idaho during the last 15 years.

“Leon held up your city as the poster child,” Rigby said.

Rigby presented posters showing speed-limit increases on the more contentious north end of the city, where the southbound speed is currently posted at 25 mph well before Atkinsons' Market. 

Rigby proposed increasing the southbound speed limit from 25 mph to 35 mph from Kirtley Street to Atkinsons Market, where it will decrease to 25 mph through town. 

Kirtley Street serves a school and about 80 homes to the west, yet Rigby said the current 25 mph speed limit posted there is not followed by most drivers. He said that national statistics indicate that keeping the speed too low at on such a stretch of road could cause accidents between vehicles traveling at different rates of speed. 

“This is about balancing safety with the needs of the public who use the highway as it runs through town,” Rigby said.

Councilman Larry Plott asked if the number of accidents had decreased on that stretch of highway since the speed limit was decreased 15 years ago. 

Rigby said no such study had taken place, and that any increase in accidents in the area could also be attributed to increased population. He said if studies point to lowering speed limits to increase safety, ITD could lower them again. 

“If any accidents are identified as speed-related, we will be back here,” Rigby said.

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