DOT Southeast Traffic and Safety Engineer David Epstein describes how the agency sets speed limits.

DOT Southeast Traffic and Safety Engineer David Epstein describes how the agency sets speed limits.

By Greta Mart/KHNS

Resident concerns over speeding on Mud Bay Road prompted the Haines Planning Commission to recommend a speed study.

The Commission voted Thursday in favor of asking the state to do a speed study on Mud Bay Road. Commission members recommended the borough assembly and manager ask the Alaska Department of Transportation to conduct the study, which the DOT could use to determine whether or not to lower the speed limit. The road is owned and managed by the state, and the speed limit for much of it is 30 miles per hour.

In June, resident Ann Marie Fossman requested to lower the speed limit on Mud Bay in between intersections with Small Tracts Road to 20 miles per hour. 16 other residents signed their names in support. Many of those residents attended last week’s meeting to hear a DOT engineer explain how the state sets speed limits.

“The planning Commission has the moral responsibility in my mind to follow up on this,” said Mud Bay Road resident John Brower. “It may not have the authority but you have the moral obligation.”

DOT’s Southeast Traffic and Safety Engineer David Epstein said he drove the road several times Thursday morning. He said he’s concerned that lowering the speed limit on Mud Bay Road will actually undermine safety. That’s because it will increase the disparity between speeds and raise the likelihood of crashes.

In a speed study, DOT staff gathers data on how fast cars are going at several points on a given road. The studies are a main factor in establishing posted speed limits. Planning Commission Chair Rob Goldberg cautioned those seeking to lower the speed limit to be careful what they ask for.

“If people are driving above the current speed limit, the state might come back and say you know, it really ought to be 35 instead of 30, so there is some danger that it might go the other way from the way you want it to go,” said Goldberg.

Epstein also said he looked up the most recent crash data for Mud Bay Road, from 2008 to 2012. In that five year period, there had been only one injury accident, in 2010.

“One crash in five years is not reflective of a safety issue. Now I’ve certainly hear everything that’s been said here tonight, and if we do a speed study, we’re going to take into consideration other factors,” said Epstein.

Goldberg said he had seen more drivers being pulled over for speeding lately on Mud Bay Road. He asked Interim Police Chief Robert Griffiths if there had been an increase in the level of enforcement, particularly on Cemetery Hill. Griffiths said that since the department hired another officer, there has been more traffic enforcement.

“Recently there are some days of the week when we have two officers and that’s the first place they go, go out and work traffic. And I know the hill has been one of their favorite places to go,” said Griffiths.

It’s now up to the Borough Assembly to formally request the speed study from the DOT. The Planning Commission asked the study to include Mud Bay Road from Mile Zero to Letnikof Cove, including Small Tracts Road.

Last week the Planning Commission was also scheduled to consider approving a proposed heliport at Mile 26, but that item was tabled for the time being.

Applicant Scott Sundberg of Big Salmon Ventures LLC withdrew his request for conditional use permit to build the heliport. Sundberg said he agreed with the borough manager’s recommendation that the Planning Commission postpone making a decision until the results of a helicopter noise study are made public. And until the Borough Assembly clarifies noise standards in municipal code.

“Until that happens, we’d rather not create a cloudy situation,” Sundberg said. “We want to make sure these next rounds of decisions are based on fact and what has been sought after by both the borough and by Big Salmon Ventures.”

Borough Manager David Sosa said Monday he expects to publish the final noise study on the borough’s website by evening. Included in the study are comments from over 20 residents. Sosa says the next step in the process is to schedule a time when the study’s authors can brief the Assembly and the public on their results.

The Commission also resurrected a two-year-old recommendation for the Assembly. It asks to remove a current code requirement for connection to the public water and sanitary system.

Commissioner Lee Heinmiller said that the way code is written now, homeowners are mandated to connect to Borough water and sewer systems should those systems be expanded to within 200 feet of homes. That requirement applies even if the homeowner has already installed a well and/or septic system. Mayor Jan Hill was at the meeting and said she had never heard of the recommendation and promised the Assembly would reexamine that section of code.

Also at the meeting, Planning Commissioner Goldberg noted that upgrades are on the way at Picture Point. A work crew will install a 30-foot strip of grass to accommodate picnic tables and logs to separate the picnic and parking area. Goldberg says new trails are planned for beach access at the north and south pull outs. Alaska Indian Arts is tasked with creating a sign for the recreation area.