Haines Borough Planning Commissioners Thursday discussed a citizen request to lower the speed limit on a section of Mud Bay Road.
Several residents said speeding cars are a safety hazard on a road that’s shared with bikers, walkers, and animals. The planning commission doesn’t have the power to change the speed limit on the state-owned road. But commissioners talked about what action they might be able to take.
The speed limit request is from resident Ann Marie Fossman. She asks for the current 30 miles per hour limit to be reduced to 20 miles per hour. Fossman’s request pertains to the stretch of Mud Bay Road between the north and south intersections with Small Tracts.
Before hearing any citizen comments, planning commission chair Rob Goldberg pointed out that the planning commission has no authority over speed limits on state-owned roads like Mud Bay.
“I also told [Fossman] that DOT has never listened to anything that we’ve suggested they do,” Goldberg said. “So this is on the agenda as a discussion item.”
And there was a discussion.
“People look at 30 miles per hour and they go 40. And that’s coming and going,” said Mud Bay Road resident Kathryn Friedle. “And if they lower it to 20, maybe people will start slowing down.”
Resident Julie Rae questioned why the speed limit changes from 25 at Mile Zero Mud Bay to 30 at Cemetary Hill.
“At the top of Cemetery Hill there’s a couple of signs. And one is a warning that it’s a multi-use area, ‘slow: bicycles.'” Rae said. “Then you go a little bit further, ‘slow: children at play.’ And then you go a little bit further, there’s a bus stop. Why are all these signs asking people to go slow, why aren’t they just going the speed limit?”
Most of the public comment on the speed limit request was supportive. But resident Cindy Jackson said it’s an enforcement issue.
“I think 30 is just fine,” Jackson said. “It seems like more enforcement is the issue. And even in front of the school, except when the lights are flashing, it’s 35.”
Some of the planning commissioners agreed with Jackson, saying residents should be talking to police about the speeding problem.
“The issue by the testimony of the people who spoke here is that people are going in excess of the speed limit,” said Commissioner Brenda Josephson. “I think we’re putting the cart before the horse with this conversation. It really should be going to borough police enforcement.”
The commissioners debated whether road speed limits are a topic relevant to the planning commission. Commissioner Heather Lende lives on Mud Bay Road.
“I just think it’s interesting that I’m hearing from you and other commissioners that we shouldn’t weigh in on it at all because the state does whatever they want,” Lende said. “It would seem to me that at least as a planning body it would be remiss not to.”
Commissioner Donnie Turner said speed limits aren’t the planning commission’s responsibility.
“It’s not in our lap, really,” Turner said. “I think the police department is where it needs to be. It’s public safety, it’s not planning as far as I’m concerned.”
Rae, who spoke in favor of a decreased speed limit, told the commission they are spokespersons for the people. Resident John Brower asked whether it would take a tragedy to prompt action:
“Does it take an accident or a death to learn what a life it worth?” Brower asked. “No. If we plan ahead, we prevent those things.”
Commission Chair Goldberg agreed to host a discussion about the speed limit at the next planning meeting. He said he would invite the police chief, a local DOT employee, and Public Safety Commissioner Jim Stanford.
Also at Thursday’s meeting, the planning commission approved a height variance request from the Southeast Alaska State Fair to allow for construction of a 44-foot climbing tower.
At Lende’s request, the commission agreed to ask borough staff to request a ground-level artist rendition of the small boat harbor expansion plan from PND Engineers. At previous public meetings, residents concerned about the aesthetics of the harbor have asked for a ground-level rendition, instead of just a birds-eye-view blueprint.
The next planning commission meeting is August 13th.