Full disclosure, total transparency, intensely personal interest, undeniable bias declaration: I live on West Chewuch Road, about 6 miles north of Winthrop, and have for the past five-plus years. I roughly calculate that I’ve driven that stretch of county road 3,000 times or more in that time, in all seasons, in all weather conditions, in daylight and darkness. I know where the deer are, which patches of the road are shaded and thus more icy in the winter, where it’s safe to pass, what driveways to be aware of. From my front window, I can watch a varied stream of traffic go by — bicyclists in the summer, trucks hauling snowmobiles in the winter, stock trucks headed up Cub Creek, Forest Service vehicles on the way to somewhere.
I thank I can say, with experience and confidence, that the county commissioners’ consideration of lowering the speed limit from 50 to 35 miles per hour on the whole length West Chewuch Road is unequivocally absurd.
Hey, I try to be thoughtful, considerate, and keep a civil tone, and give people the benefit of the doubt. But then this flabbergasting idea comes along, disingenuously disguised as a “safety” measure, and I find myself going all social media troll, snarky and disparaging, spouting the same raw reaction that many of your probably reached as quickly as I did: what the bleep are they thinking?
Hard to know, because what they’re probably thinking, and won’t say, is that the proposal is one more way to stick it to the Methow Valley before two of the commissioners leave office courtesy of a “no thank you, we’ve seen enough” from the voters. That’s the conspiracy theory version of events, which is sadly more credible in the current political environment.
The proposal didn’t come from anyone in the public, but rather from outgoing Commissioner Ray Campbell, who represents the Methow Valley and who characterized the proposal as just taking care of unfinished business — as in, let’s not overlook that major county arterial that’s so dangerous that traffic must be slowed down to (well, what do you know?) the legal speed for allowing all-terrain vehicles.
Does anyone really believe that, just now, the commissioners remembered that “oh yeah, shoulda taken care of that when we opened up everything else in the county to ATVs. Duh, our bad.”
Moving on from skeptical sarcasm mode, let me make a few practical observations:
- Anyone who has driven West Chewuch Road even a little bit knows that it is safely engineered for 50 miles per hour. I don’t go faster than that, or feel the need to.
- The county has put a lot of money and effort into keeping West Chewuch safe for the relatively heavy traffic it experiences, building up the shoulders and chip-sealing the road surface in the past couple of years. It’s not an infrastructure problem.
- The most challenging curves on the road are now indicated with caution signs suggesting 35 mph. So the commissioners are proposing that everyone slow down, all the time, to the speed at which the worst stretches of the road can be safely traversed.
- As a practical matter, no one will obey a 35 mph limit, and nobody will enforce it. County sheriff’s deputies have a lot of territory to cover more important things to do than setting speed traps on West Chewuch.
- Yes, there are bicyclists, joggers, power walkers, moms pushing baby carriages, car-chasing dogs and Nordic skiers doing their summer training on roller-skis using the narrow shoulders of West Chewuch. We are aware of them, and take their presence into account.
- A county engineer’s study recommended against a lower speed limit on most of West Chewuch. The engineer determined that a reduced speed was not indicated and that existing cautions for some curves are adequate (see related story “).
Maybe the proposal will die a quiet, dignified death when it comes up next week (in the last few days before two of the commissioners leave office). If not, I won’t be the only one asking the new commissioners to undo it.