Clallam commissioners mull changes to speed limit policy

PORT ANGELES — Clallam County officials are fine-tuning policy revisions for county road speed limits.

The proposed amendments to Policy 817 would eliminate an annual petition process and replace it with a system that would allow a citizen to request a new speed limit at any time of the year.

“My observation is that this is actually more responsive to the public,” Commissioner Bill Peach said in Monday’s work session.

The three commissioners directed County Engineer Ross Tyler to send a revised version of the policy to the Prosecuting Attorney’s Office for final review.

Commissioners held a public hearing on a similar proposal Oct. 18.

After that hearing, they directed Tyler to clarify in the policy how a citizen can request a speed limit change.

“We had removed pretty much all of the specific language that had to do with citizen input,” Tyler told commissioners Monday.

“We didn’t want to eliminate the citizen petition process, but we’re beginning to have them work more directly through the board, through myself or through the sheriff’s department.”

The new draft contains a “citizen request” component where a citizen can ask the county engineer or sheriff to consider a new speed limit on a section of road or group of roads.

Tyler or Sheriff Bill Benedict would consider the request and respond in a “timely manner,” according to the draft policy.

“If the board gets a citizen request or you have an issue, or I take a look at accident data, or the sheriff comes to me and says ‘No, this is just not working right here,’ no matter what the request, we’re going to take it in and at least do a cursory examination of what’s going on,” Tyler said.

“I don’t care where the information or the request comes from. I’m going to take a look at it.”

If the road department determines that a full investigation is warranted, traffic and accident data would be compiled and a recommendation would be made to the board. Commissioners would hold a public hearing before considering a speed limit change.

If the citizen’s request for a new speed limit is denied, he or she would be encouraged to make an appeal in a letter to the board, according to the draft policy.

The annual petition for speed limit changes was added to county policy several years ago when the road department was getting a “barrage” of requests, Tyler said.

“The way that we had it set up, everyone’s request required us to take an engineer off whatever they were doing, throw a whole bunch of time and energy into an investigative process, then they would make a full report to the board,” said Tyler, who has worked for the county since the mid-1980s.

“We were running out of staff resources at a prodigious rate and not changing anything, because we keep a pretty close eye on speed limits and accident reports and everything else.”

But the civil division of the Prosecuting Attorney’s Office urged the board to do away with the petition process, saying it exposed the county to liability.

Commissioner Mark Ozias said the proposed change “makes great sense.”

“It seems like a real good compromise between providing an opportunity for input and suggestions, but not doing it in such a way that it’s going to put us in legal jeopardy,” Ozias said.

Ozias questioned whether having the sheriff as a second point of contact for a citizen’s request to change a speed limit would create confusion.

“The fact that you ask that question means that this needs just a little bit more clarification, I think,” Tyler said.

“It always has to come through my office, so we need to clarify in here that the request can come by the sheriff or through the sheriff, just like it can come by you or through you, but it does have to be investigated by the road department, and then the report has to be made by the road department.”

Tyler said he would update the draft policy “just to make that clear.”

Clallam County, which has about 500 miles of roads, rarely changes its speed limits, Tyler said.

“These things are driven by development and stuff like that,” he said.

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Reporter Rob Ollikainen can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 56450, or at rollikainen@peninsuladailynews.com.

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