Limits will drop on Highway 20 through town
After years of efforts to slow speeding traffic through Winthrop, the town finally is getting some help from the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT).
At its meeting last week, the Town Council adopted an ordinance that reduces the speed limit along two portions of state Highway 20 through Winthrop, based on recommendations offered by WSDOT at the town’s request.
Whether WSDOT’s authorization to reduce speed limits through the very heart of town will make any difference remains to be seen, depending on motorists’ compliance and the town’s willingness to enforce the new rules. Neither compliance nor enforcement have been particularly consistent in the past.
Public Works Superintendent Jeff Sarvis said in a memo to the mayor and council that WSDOT has reviewed the town’s request and recommended changes at two locations:
• reducing the speed limit from 25 mph to 20 mph between milepost 192.83 (the Chewuch River bridge) to milepost 193.16 (the Spring Creek Bridge), essentially from the four-way stop and then along Riverside Avenue through the main business district.
• extending the existing 25 mph limit on the east side of town from milepost 193.76 (near East 20 Pizza) to milepost 194.04 (just east of the Abby Creek inn driveway).
The speed limit will remain 25 mph between Rader Road west of town and the Chewuch River bridge, and between the Spring Creek Bridge and milepost 193.76. The speed limit will remain 35 mph between the western town limits (near the entrance to the River Run Inn) and Rader Road; and between the eastern town limits and milepost 194.04.
Enforcement of the limits is up to the town marshal’s office.
Sarvis said WSDOT did not conduct any additional speed surveys before coming up with its recommendations, but earlier surveys documented the problem. He recommended that the council accept the WSDOT recommendations.
Sarvis said he did not have a time frame for the changes but they likely won’t happen until spring. WSDOT will install the new signs, he said.
Mayor Sally Ranzau characterized the changes as “better than nothing,” and the council agreed to adopt an ordinance authorizing the changes, with the expectation that they won’t satisfy everyone.
“I guarantee we’ll get some grumbling from old-timers” about the lower limits, council member Bill McAdow observed.
Speeding complaints have been consistent for years, with locals sharing some of the blame along with tourists, as the town has sought to land somewhere between known as a speed trap or traffic hazard. The town has purchased electronic signs that detect incoming speeds, and planned to install them at various entry points to town including Twin Lakes Road, East Chewuch Road and Twisp-Winthrop Eastside Road.
The Town Council earlier created an ad hoc committee, including council members Kirsten Vanderhalf and Ben Nelson along with citizen representatives, to come up with some ideas for addressing the speed issue. The committee’s recommendations for “calming” traffic include better enforcement of existing limits, public education about the traffic problems, engineering actions on some streets to discourage speeding, and encouraging more community involvement.
While that committee’s recommendations included some internal, town-administered streets, last week’s actions include only Highway 20, a state highway over which WSDOT has ultimate jurisdiction.
As for “general measures,” the committee recommended stepped-up enforcement of speed limits by the Winthrop Marshal’s Office. “There needs to be a balance between becoming a ‘speed trap’ and maintaining a police presence that shows the importance of following speed laws in our town,” the committee said in its memo to the Town Council.
Over an eight-day period in June 2016, WSDOT found that the average vehicle speed was 43 mph in the stretch of highway where the speed limit is 25 mph. Of the 44,375 vehicles that passed through the study area during that period, more than 12,000 were driving between 30 mph and 40 mph, more than 27,000 were driving between 40 mph and 50 mph, and a few were driving as fast as 70 mph to 80 mph.
In other business:
• The council approved a contract of up to $38,000 with Aspect Consulting to assist the town with getting Washington State Department of Health (DOH) approval of the town’s well No. 2 for use as a primary domestic water source. Currently, the well is only authorized for emergency backup use. With DOH approval, both well No. 1, the town’s primary source, and No. 2 could be used for potable water.
In a memo to the council, Sarvis said the testing and sampling services provided by Aspect “will inform us at to the volume, quality of water, affect on the surrounding wells, and size of pump and motor to be applied to well No. 2.”
In answer to a council question, Sarvis said that DOH approval of well No. 2 as a viable source does not increase the town’s existing water rights in any way. Both wells No. 1 and No. 2 share the existing rights, Sarvis said, as they are part of the same well field that the town has rights to.
Sarvis said that while the town’s existing water resources are enough to handle Winthrop’s anticipated growth, it’s important to have well No. 2 available as an approved domestic source.
Earlier, the town has contracted with Aspect to provide technical assistance in researching and developing additional water rights for the town, should that need ever arise. Sarvis said the town has “certificated” water rights that are locked in, but also some un-certificated.
• The council renewed the contract of Municipal Judge David Ebenger for another four years at a monthly compensation of $675. Ebenger also serves at the municipal judge in Twisp under a contract with that town.