By Marcy Stamper
The Okanogan County commissioners are considering reducing the speed limit on two roads in the Methow Valley — Gold Creek Loop Road and West Chewuch Road — from 50 to 35 miles per hour (mph).
The change would affect 2.4 miles on Gold Creek Loup Road — the entire loop — and 6.8 miles on West Chewuch Road, from its intersection with Highway 20 in Winthrop to where it meets the bridge over the Chewuch River that connects with East Chewuch Road.
As a paved road, under state law Gold Creek Loop is 50 mph by default because a different speed limit has not been specified, according to Okanogan County Engineer Josh Thomson. Thomson said he and County Commissioner Ray Campbell had spoken regarding concerns about the road a few months ago.
“That road has no business being a 50-mile-per-hour road,” said Thomson, who must do a road analysis and provide a recommendation to the commissioners before any speed-limit changes can be made.
The commissioners proposed reducing the speed limit on West Chewuch, said Thomson, who has not done the study for that road yet. Thomson said his understanding was that the commissioners were concerned that the 50-mph speed is too fast because many cyclists and pedestrians use the road.
Thomson will look at traffic volumes and speed data based on road counts, which are collected every few years, and will also drive the length of West Chewuch before making a recommendation to the commissioners. They typically look at the speed traveled by 85 percent of motorists, since that has been found to be a reasonable speed, said Thomson.
The commissioners can adjust the speed limit on an entire road or just part of it, can impose a different speed limit, or can maintain the existing speed, said Thomson.
In the past, requests to reduce speed limits on some Methow roads, including East Chewuch Road, the Twisp-Winthrop East County Road, Bear Creek Road and Beaver Creek Road, have been made by the North Central ATV Club, but Thomson said the all-terrain-vehicle club was not involved in the current requests.
State law allows county officials to open roads of 35 mph or below to ATV riders. The Okanogan County commissioners passed an ordinance in 2014 opening all 35-mph county roads to ATVs. That ordinance is facing a legal challenge from the Methow Valley Citizens Council, who contend that the commissioners need to look at conditions on individual roads before allowing ATVs to use them because of safety concerns and the potential for damage to sensitive environmental areas. Separate action would have to be taken to open additional roads to ATVs.
The commissioners are holding a public hearing on the proposed speed-limit reductions for Gold Creek Loop and West Chewuch roads on Monday (Dec. 19) at 10:30 a.m. in their hearing room in Okanogan. People can submit comments in advance to Jo Ann Stansbury at email@example.com or can comment at the hearing.