558 N. Main St., Prineville, OR 97754 | (541) 447-6205
You can’t drive . . . 55
Increased cross traffic at Millican and Tom McCall roads on Highway 126 has led to a slower speed limit
The City of Prineville recently requested a 45 miles-per-hour speed limit for a stretch of Highway 126 that includes intersections with Tom McCall and George Millican roads. The digital driver feedback signs are meant to draw additional attention to the speed limit change and slow drivers down.
March 07, 2013
Anyone who has recently driven Highway 126 at the top of the grade west of Prineville has undoubtedly noticed some changes in the speed limit.
They may have also wondered why the decision was made – and why the speed limit changes so many times in such a short stretch of highway.
What may leave drivers a bit perplexed is that the speed limit changes three times in a 1.7-mile span. Driving eastbound it drops from 55 miles per hour to 45, then goes back up to 55, and then drops again to 45. Going westbound out of Prineville, it follows the same pattern, but starts at 45 miles per hour and ends at 55.
The City of Prineville recently asked the Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT) to change the speed limit on the highway between the Tom McCall Road and George Millican Road intersections from 55 miles per hour to 45.
“It is a safety measure until we get some kind of improvements at Tom McCall,” said Josh Smith, the City’s senior planner. “It was something we could get ODOT to do now.”
The safety measures became necessary because the construction taking place at the Facebook and Apple data centers has increased traffic in the area.
“The reason that we kept it 55 is that what we have found is that if we lower the speed limit, if we post a sign that says 45, people violate,” said ODOT public affairs specialist Peter Murphy. “It becomes kind of background noise.”
He went on to explain that people tend to take more notice of the speed limit changes when they go from 55 miles per hour to 45, then back to 55, the way many speed zones do.
“It’s that or bells and whistles, and lights and sirens and that kind of thing,” Murphy quipped.
While the speed limit changes frequently, Prineville Police Captain Michael Boyd said they do not plan to treat the portion of highway as a speed trap.
“I do know that the places where it is 45, that’s a safe speed,” he said. “We have had some pretty serious collisions at the intersection of [Tom McCall Road] and the highway. So anything we can do to calm traffic down there is a good thing as far as we are concerned.”
When the City asked for the new speed zone, they requested the inclusion of driver feedback signs to draw more attention to the change. The digital signs occupy the same posts as the 45 mile per hour signs and tell people how fast they are driving.
“When they see their speed, they slow down,” Smith said. “It’s just a natural response.”
The City will retain the new speed zone until they upgrade the Tom McCall intersection to improve its safety. Smith said they would like to at minimum add right and left turn lanes, but hope to do more than that if they can afford to.
They have considered installing either a traffic signal or a roundabout at the intersection, both of which cost about $5 million. Of those two, they would prefer a roundabout.
“It (a traffic signal) is not as safe, and you do have to stop traffic,” he said, “whereas a roundabout, you can keep moving.”
Smith said that the roundabout would be designed for higher speeds and would be built large enough to accommodate vehicles the size of a large truck.
The City is currently updating its Transportation System Plan, and once they complete it, the document will include a plan for the Tom McCall intersection. Meanwhile, they have applied for funding through the State Transportation Improvement Plan to pay for whatever solution they choose.
However, it appears that the temporary speed zone will stick around for the next few years, as construction on the intersection may have to wait until the latter part of this decade.
“The funds we are applying for through the State Transportation Improvement Plan would not be available until 2016-2018,” said City Planning Director Scott Edelman. “The City, (Crook) County and ODOT are looking at beginning the design work prior to that time in order to expedite the process if we do receive the funds.”