Seward Highway neighbors seek speed limit drop to 45 mph

Posted: Tuesday, December 22, 2009

ANCHORAGE - People who live off the Seward Highway are tired of observing accidents along the winding, scenic road, so they have asked the Alaska Department of Transportation to lower the speed limit from Indian to Bird to 45 mph.

People who live a few miles south of Anchorage say they've watched rear-enders, stared into the faces of oncoming drivers in the wrong lane and heard about a lot of deaths on the road along Turnagain Arm.

"You've got sheep. You've got eagles. You've got whales. People are just not paying attention to the road," says Pat Athey of Indian, president of the Turnagain Arm Community Council.

Besides the wildlife, nearly 300 people and a dozen or so businesses populate Bird and Indian.

Pat Terwilliger, whose husband is minister of the Valley Bible Chalet, said many people don't realize they are zooming through a residential area.

"Even to turn into our driveway we take our lives into our hands. People are not obeying the 55 miles per hour speed limit through Indian," she said.

The community council voted 16-0 at its December meeting to ask the state to lower the speed limit from Milepost 100 at Bird to Milepost 104.5 at Indian.

State traffic engineer Scott Thomas and Ron Martindale, highway safety improvement coordinator, plan to study traffic in the area next summer, if money is available. They plan to count the accidents, track how fast people are driving and survey life along the highway, but they say a lower speed limit won't necessarily make the road safer.

Just putting a sign up might not be enough to make drivers slow down.

"Speed limits need to be effective and shouldn't require constant enforcement to get compliance," Martindale said.

Past studies of how fast vehicles are going in the Bird-Indian strip showed that average speeds were in the upper 50s, Martindale said, while upper speeds were 60 to 62 mph.

Other possible solutions could include putting in left-turn pockets and adding rumble strips in the center to keep people from drifting out of their lanes.

Eleven people were killed on the Seward Highway from Anchorage to Turnagain Pass through early December. The most severe accidents occur outside of the Bird to Indian stretch.

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