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Council reverses, pulls city support on zone extension

ITD anticipates making a decision in January

Grangeville City Hall

Grangeville City Hall


Grangeville downtown businesses petition to city council, presented Dec. 17, 2018

— The Grangeville City Council has backed up and turned around on supporting a citizen proposal to extend the 35 mph zone on U.S. Highway 95.

In a unanimous decision last Monday, Dec. 17, the council approved contacting the Idaho Transportation Department that, upon further consideration, the city wants to keep as-is the existing 45 mph zones on the north and south ends of town. As part of this motion, the council also stressed keeping the state highway running through town and not relocated to bypass the city.

This reverses a 5-to-1 council vote last month to support a petition by commercial developer Jerry Cloninger to ITD to consider extending the 35 mph zones – 1,600 feet on the south end and 750 feet on the north end. Cloninger, who is planning a development off of U.S. 95 adjacent to the Family Dollar Store, stated safety as the prime factor in the proposal.

But a group of downtown business people were not buying the safety argument, a contingent of whom attended the meeting, representing nearly 30 signers on a petition to the city, asking the council to rescind its decision. At issue was city support for a speed limit reduction could lend political support to ITD to bypass Grangeville at Johnston Road or farther west by Tolo Lake, and in doing so negatively impact local economics and the community overall.

“You could have taken it down to 10 mph there, and he’d still be going 65,” said James Rockwell of Summit Brokerage Service on Main Street. He referred to the driver in the 2016 fatality crash who failed to reduce speed in the 45 mph zone and killed Grangeville woman Marea Burkenbine. This same incident was referred to in Cloninger’s petition as a factor in the need to reduce speeds to improve safety.

Grangeville Police Chief Morgan Drew emphasized his department’s focus is safety: “Lower speeds are safer, from my perspective…. It would be nice to get them slowed down sooner.” But later he also agreed with comments that the crash two years ago was not affected by what the posted speed was: “That speed limit had no effect on that. Anyone who doesn’t pay attention out there will have the same results.”

Rockwell — along with Blue Fox Theatre owner Chris Wagner and Alpine Motors owner Jeff Kutner — stated city support for lowering the speed limit lends ammunition to ITD that the area is a traffic problem and that a bypass is warranted.

“We know what happened to Cottonwood and Ferdinand,” Wagner said, referring to the negative impact to downtown businesses from U.S. 95 shifting motorist traffic out of those communities. “I’d hate to see anything happen to our town on the business side of things.”

A bypass isn’t out of consideration for the state, according to Rockwell who noted his past involvement in two ITD proposals to move the highway onto the prairie, which met with opposition from local residents and businesses. Were the city to support this current effort, it would politically empower ITD to take action.

“And we could get ourselves in trouble,” he said.

More than once during the discussion, councilors regretted not having this information and allowing time for the public to consider the matter before they voted on the petition last month. Since then, residents have contacted councilors, such as Scott Winkler, who noted split support: Business people against the zone change, and residents in favor saying, “It is too fast through that area.” That sentiment was echoed by councilor Amy Farris, who stated she has been in an accident at the U.S. 95/State Highway 13 intersection, and has witnessed first-hand speeding truck traffic coming through this area, “and with the size of trucks coming through that intersection, to me, that’s a scary deal.”

Mayor Wes Lester was questioned on whether cost-savings were a part of Cloninger’s motivation for the zone chance, and he referred to the Nov. 19 meeting where the council was told if the area were reduced to 35 mph it would reduce 150 feet of turn lanes he would be required to build for the proposed development.

With highway safety at issue, Chief Drew put a question to the business people in attendance on whether they would accept a more aggressive stance by GPD in slowing motorists down through this area? He prefaced that with saying in year’s past, businesses have not highly supported traffic patrol on the highway as it ran people away from town. Kutner favored enforcement, “but not enough to become your basic speed trap.”

According to ITD Dist. 2 spokesperson Megan Sausser, since receiving the petition, ITD has collected the data necessary to evaluate the speed limit near Grangeville and anticipates making a decision in January.

“We are in the process of reviewing the crash history for the area as well as how fast drivers are traveling on that section of the highway. This data will inform an engineering analysis that will ultimately help us determine if the speed limit is appropriate for the area,” she said.


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