The Wahkiakum County Eagle - Established as The Skamokawa Eagle in 1891

DOT to study lower SR 4 speed at Cathlamet


March 22, 2018

Motorists will soon see a reduced speed limit on SR 4 through Cathlamet.

Both the Cathlamet Town Council and Wahkiakum County Board of Commissioners agreed to ask the Washington Department of Transportation (WSDOT) to lower the speed limit to 35 miles per hour.

The move would be part of a long range effort to increase safety along the highway through Cathlamet. Officials from both the town and county have supported proposals for lower speed and other changes to improve safety on SR 4 between the Elochoman Valley and Boege roads intersections.

WSDOT's Rick Keniston met with the council Monday to discuss traffic issues. They range from basic measures to significant changes, he said, and the department was seeking input from local entities.

The department plans to reduce the speed in the area this spring to study traveler's reaction, Keniston said.

After discussion, the council agreed they would prefer a reduction in the speed limit from 50 to 35 miles per hour and the installation of turning lanes and cross walks at intersections.

When county commissioners learned of the discussion on Tuesday, they voted to write a letter supporting a reduction of speed to 35 miles per hour.

It may not be simple to reduce the speed to 35 mph, Keniston said. Department staff can unilaterally reduce the speed to 45 mph, he said, but normally they must do an extensive speed study to lower the limit to 35 mph.

"I have to have an engineer's report for state engineer saying it has to go the 35," he said. "I don't have the staff to do it; you'd have to hire somebody to do it."

In other considerations, crosswalks in 45 mph zones can be lit with solar powered blinking lights, but if the limit is 35 mph, the crossing needs a stop light.

In any case, he said, he can present the local request.

One key area for a cross walk would be at the school access road.

Wahkiakum School District Administrative Assistant Brent Freeman said students annually average 1,155 trips across the highway going to the district 100-acre Farm Forest. The district would like a cross walk there to increase safety.

The district would also like a left turn lane for westbound traffic, for buses often have to stop and wait for eastbound traffic to clear before they can turn.

Finally, Freeman said, "The speed has to be below 35 for us to get kids across the road."

School bus driver Deb Howie also recommended the left turn lane and reduced speed, even to 20 mph.

Such a reduction would require a traffic study and approval by the state engineer, Keniston said.

He explained that the department could easily drop the speed to 45 in the area and eliminate the passing lane between Main Street and Boege Road intersections without a traffic study. They would also consider measures to visually restrain motorists, such as narrowing the vehicle lanes and adding bicycle lanes.

The parties agreed that a long range view was necessary, for there will be more development along the highway and the amount of traffic is likely to increase with the increase in population.

In other council business Monday, representatives of the Wahkiakum Community Garden met with the council to discuss a new memorandum of understanding (MOU).

The town had an MOU with Wahkiakum County, which sponsored the garden when it was created in 2010. However, the agreement was never renewed. The garden has operated under direction from Washington State University Cooperative Extension master gardener.

Master Gardener Joyce Orr reviewed the garden's development; it is now fenced and has an interior water system. There are 23 plots, Orr said; all are taken and there are two parties on the waiting list.

Gardeners have a section dedicated to growing produce for local food banks; they provided 1,500 lbs. of produce in 2016 and 1,072 last year, which, Orr said, was a bad year for some reason.

Council members expressed concern that the growth of garden use is leading to high water consumption and that the entities lacked a formal agreement.

Orr explained that gardeners had updated the irrigation last year so that individuals could water their own plots. Previously, there was one control for watering, and all plots were watered simultaneously. The new system doesn't waste water, she said.

Council Member Jean Burnham also recommended the gardeners form a non-profit organization to contract with the town. Member gardeners could pay fees to defray water use.

Cooperative Extension Agent Carrie Backman commented that the master gardeners report hours worked and are covered by Extensions state L&I insurance.

After more discussion, the parties agreed to hold another meeting when county officials could attend, and they would work on the MOU.


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