By Marcy Stamper
The Okanogan County commissioners have postponed a decision on lowering speed limits on two Methow Valley Roads, but they have lots of input to consider — in favor of the lower speed on the Gold Creek Loop Road but opposed to a reduction on West Chewuch Road.
The commissioners have proposed reducing speed limits on both roads from 50 to 35 miles per hour (mph).
Support for the change on West Chewuch was significantly outweighed by the opposition by a factor of 10 — five people called the change “way overdue” but another 50 thought it was unnecessary and would inconvenience people who travel the road regularly.
The commissioners suggested reducing the speed limit on West Chewuch because many cyclists and pedestrians use the road, but cyclists, joggers and pedestrians who wrote to the county said they did not feel unsafe sharing the road with vehicles.
About half of the commenters voiced a suspicion that the proposal had to do with ultimately permitting all-terrain vehicles (ATVs) to use the road. While there is no documented connection between these proposed speed-limit reductions and ATVs, county commissioners have the option of opening roads to ATVs when the speed limit is 35 mph or below.
“If this is all about allowing ATVs on the West Chewuch, please reconsider. Our community does not want ATVs on this road. Permitting them to operate on this road will make it less safe for motorists and cyclists, not more safe,” said one Methow resident in comments to the county.
“We own an ATV and understand they want to have access to roads, but this change would serve a small number of users only a fraction of the time … and negatively impact the residents,” said another.
“I trust the commissioners are not trying to use a backdoor method of allowing ATV’s on the West Chewuch Road (legally). Don’t do it. We don’t need it,” wrote another.
A few saw the proposal as the parting act of the two commissioners who were defeated in the election.
“Two of you 3 are lame ducks. You have been voted out of office because of your failure to listen to, and act on behalf of the majority of county residents,” wrote one.
“Is there actually a safety issue that needs to be addressed or is this just the final attempt of the out-going commissioner to open another road to ATV usage?” asked another.
A traffic study by County Engineer Josh Thomson recommended against the speed-limit reduction on most of West Chewuch Road. Thomson found that 85 percent of traffic traveled at the posted speed limit on the half-mile closest to Winthrop.
In the next 5 miles, 85 percent of traffic actually exceeded the speed limit, traveling at 54 mph. While there were three accidents in that stretch in the past six years, two were collisions with animals and one involved ice on the roadway. Thomson found that a slower speed was not indicated and that lower advisory speeds for curved sections are adequate.
From Cub Creek Road at milepost 5.3 to the end of the road at milepost 6.77, there are numerous curves with advisory speeds from 25 to 35 mph and most traffic traveled below 50 mph. Thomson recommended reducing the speed limit on this stretch.
On Gold Creek Loop Road, a total of 2.4 miles, 85 percent of the traffic traveled considerably below the 50-mph maximum, going between 27 and 35 mph, according to Thomson’s research. Thomson noted that the road is narrow and winding and recommended reducing the speed to 35 mph.
No members of the public opposed the change on Gold Creek Loop Road.
The commissioners have continued their hearing to Wednesday (Dec. 28) at 11 a.m. but have closed public testimony.