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Speed limit changes proposed in Chinook


Posted speed limits may change on U.S. Highway 2 in and near Chinook after the June meeting of the Montana Highway Commission.

The Montana Department of Transportation on April 8 presented the results of a traffic study conducted last fall to the Chinook City Council. MDT recommended that the 30 mph speed limit on U.S. Highway 2 in Chinook, where it is known as First Street, be extended both east and west, and the 40 mph speed limit east of town be posted at 50 mph.

"There's not any drastic changes, just moving the placement," Chinook Police Chief Mark Weber said Wednesday.

The City Council voted unanimously to accept the recommendations from the study, which was conducted at the council's request.

Blaine County Commissioner Don Swenson said the county government also supports the recommendations.

"It's a step in the right direction. It just doesn't go far enough for me," Swenson said.

He said he thinks the speed limit also should be reduced west of Chinook to include the railroad crossing, the intersection with Elloam Road and the Lodge Creek Bridge.

Weber said his department was concerned that the placement of the 30 mph speed limit signs didn't correspond with the city limits. The Police Department told the City Council in February 2002 that people in Chinook had raised concerns about excessive speeds and safety concerns, especially at First Street's intersections with Montana Highway 240 and Illinois Street.

The problems had arisen both because of new development on the western edge of town and because the original placement on the east didn't correspond with the city limits, Weber said.

Christie McOmber, district traffic engineer at MDT's Great Falls office, said changing the 40 mph posting to a 50 mph zone is actually correcting a mistake. The zone, starting near the Depriest GMC dealership and extending east to the posted 70 mph sign, was supposed to be a 50 mph zone, "but somehow was posted at 40 mph," she said.

The August study covered an area west of Chinook where the restricted zone begins and extended east to where the restricted zone ends outside of Chinook. It recorded traffic flows and vehicle speeds.

McOmber said the main factor looked at during speed zone studies is how fast people are driving, although safety issues are also examined.

"Most of the public already takes those into consideration when they pick their driving speed," she said. "The public naturally slows down when it comes into a more populated area."

The recommendations are based on the speed at the 85th percentile, which is greater than or equal to the speed of 85 percent of drivers.

"Eighty-five of a hundred are reasonable rates," she said.

The new recommendations are modifications of recommendations from earlier studies, McOmber said. The original traffic speed study was done in 1970. A second study was done in 1983, and the speed zones were modified slightly at that time.

The latest study backed up those results, but just moved the 30 mph zone out a bit on both edges of the city, McOmber said.

The recommendations came too late to get onto the next Highway Commission meeting, she said. They will be on the commission's agenda for its June meeting.

If people have concerns about the recommendations, they can testify at the commission's meeting, McOmber said.

Weber said his department is satisfied with the results of MDT's study.

"They followed our recommendations exactly," he said.


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