County OKs lower speed limits

The Kitsap County commissioners approved two ordinances on Monday that will lower the speed limit on nearly the entire stretch of the South Kitsap arterial called both Mile Hill and Southworth drives.

The public addressed the commissioners on both ordinances, though the most lengthy and emotional comments were reserved for the speed limit on the quarter-mile stretch of Southworth Drive between the Harper Public Fishing Pier and Olympiad Drive, which Public Works staff recommended lowering by five miles to 35 mph.

Four residents of that narrow, windy stretch of road spoke, and although all supported lowering the speed limit, all wanted it to be reduced even further to 25 mph, as well.

“Thirty-five miles per hour is still pretty fast,” said resident Kathie Gustin. “It’s too dangerous to have the road both be an arterial and a recreational area.”

The three other Southworth Drive residents who addressed the board echoed Gustin’s desire to lower the speed limit further to 25 mph. Carey Ensign and Walt Juneau both asked that the commissioners ensure that the the new speed limit, whatever it is, be enforced.

“It is no good if it is not enforced,” Ensign said of the speed limit, adding that she believed crosswalks were also necessary along the section.

After the public hearing, North Kitsap Commissioner Chris Endresen said she agreed that a 25-mph limit seemed appropriate, and asked Traffic Investigator Dusty Wiley to explain the county’s reasoning for not lowering the speed limit even more.

“Reducing the speed limit will not make it safer,” Wiley said, explaining that if the limit is lowered to 25 mph, it would encourage the drivers who are often “rushing to catch a ferry” to then perform unsafe passing. “We need to go by the 85th percentile on that stretch, and feel 35 mph is a safe speed.”

Wiley said the road does not warrant crosswalks, and that if they were put in as residents proposed — near both the Harper ball field and pier — they would be unsafe.

Both commissioners present — South Kitsap Commissioner Jan Angel was absent — voted to approve the ordinance, though Endresen added she felt the limit should be lowered further.

“I’d prefer to see it at 25 mph, but I haven’t been working on this project for years,” she said. She then promised the audience, “We will ask that it be monitored, and work with the (Kitsap County) Sheriff’s Office. People speed and don’t respect their neighbors, and we urge people to do better and respect their neighbors.”

The board also approved the second ordinance, which lowers the speed limit on all portions of Mile Hill Drive that are currently 50 mph to 45 mph, which Wiley said would create a more “uniform” speed limit on the road.

Wiley cited statistics that revealed over a four-year period — from January 2000 to December 2004 — there were a total of 134 reportable traffic collisions on that stretch of road, involving 262 vehicles and resulting in 82 injuries, and most occurred at major intersections.

“We are being proactive and getting the speed limit down now,” he said, explaining that his department is anticipating installing traffic signals at both the intersections of California Avenue and Long Lake Road on Mile Hill Drive in the near future.

However, at least one member of the public did not agree.

“I don’t believe there’s been that many accidents,” said longtime resident Howard Minor, explaining that he drives the road at least three times a day and thinks “people do a good job of driving it.

“I don’t think the new stoplights are necessary, and (once they are in), I’m going to speed up more to make up for lost time,” he said.

Public Works staff member Rob McGinley then addressed the meeting, saying in his interactions with the residents of Mile Hill Drive he had found the public to be very supportive of the county’s efforts to increase safety on the road, which include plans to add a center turn lane, along with the stoplights and the lowered speed limit.

After both ordinances were passed, Lent said that although Angel could not attend the meeting, she had expressed her support for both ordinances previously.

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