The Valdez Star - Serving Prince William Sound and Copper River Basin

By Lee Revis
Editor, Valdez Star 

Need for speed: faster limits around the corner

DOT ready to allow 65 mph on Rich and Glenn Highways


Speed limits for vast portions of the Glenn and Richardson Highways are slated to rise before the end of the year according to the Alaska Dept. of Transportation.

While reviews by Alaska State Troopers are currently in progress and public input to the proposed increase to 65 miles per hour is not scheduled to close until this week, officials say they are optimistic that travelers will be able to step it up a little by the end of October of this year.

“I’d say people are definitely in support of it,” DOT engineer Carl Heim said. “You’ll be able to roll 65 miles per hour on the Rich.”

Heim, along with Joann Mitchell, the state engineer in charge of public involvement, were scheduled to travel to Valdez Tuesday and Delta Junction Wednesday to gather what is hoped to be the final public input portion of the process needed to raise speed limits in the area.

“We’ve heard from both sides,” Mitchell said in a telephonic interview Monday.

Public input from the Copper Basin was gathered earlier this year.

While DOT is optimistic that the speed limits between Milepost 17 in Valdez all the way to Delta will increase by 10 miles per hour, Mitchell pointed out that the proposal must also pass muster with not only the traveling public, but with Alaska State Troopers.

“They’re reviewing it now,” she said of the data DOT collected in support of the increase, which began last year. One of the first steps taken in the process was to collect real-time data on how fast vehicles actually travel on the portions of the highway were an increase in speed is proposed versus what speed limit is actually posted, which on straight-aways is 55 miles per hour.

“We made it a project last year,” Heim said.

While DOT engineers have been hard at work on the proposal since August, 2012, others have been agitating for the increase for several years.

Rep. Eric Feige of Chickaloon, who represents constituents in the Alaska House in the voting boundary commonly known as the “highway district” that runs generally from Chickaloon, east along the Glenn Highway to Glennallen then down the Richardson Highway on the east portion, has been pushing for an increase on the Glenn and Richardson Highways for a long while.

In an interview Monday, Feige said he first spoke to then-transportation commissioner Marc Luiken about raising speed limits on the Glenn and Richardson Highways back in September of 2010.

“He initiated the process with our request,” Feige said. “Most people want it.”

It turns out that it is a slow process to make it legal to drive faster.

Feige said new policies – that took eight or nine months alone - had to be created before actual studies could be implemented.

Speed limits must be set with public safety in mind and that required even more studies.

“It’s kind of a slow grind,” he said.

For instance, Fiege noted that cautionary signs to slow down on portions of the road with curves have to be moved if speed limits are higher so that drivers will have a longer response time to slow down when needed. No-pass striping on the highway will also require adjusting in some areas.

“Now we have to move that sign back,” Fiege said. “Now somebody had to do a study where…”

You get the picture.

Once the increase is approved, the process of changing the signage begins. Increasing limits here, moving cautionary signs there.

“You can’t take `em all down and put `em back up all in one day,” Heim said.

Source: State of Alaska

This map shows the general stretch of the Richardson Highway that DOT is proposing an increase in the speed limit. Its current speed limit of 55 miles per hour could rise to 65 before the end of the year if public input is favorable.

Feige, who enjoyed support from city officials in Valdez on increasing the speed limits, said it should be up to drivers whether or not they want to guzzle gas on long drives on the two highways that connect so much of Alaska to its largest city, Anchorage.

“We spend all these millions of dollars to improve these roads,” Feige said, and Alaska’s travelers should be able to utilize them to the maximum advantage that safety allows.

Straight-away areas that are currently 40 miles per hour or less that run through towns such as Sutton and Glennallen are not likely to increase due to public safety factors. But other areas where there is little or no potential for large numbers of vehicles entering and leaving the highway are fair game Feige said.

“It’s not like we have traffic jams out there. Let the people get where they’re going faster,” Feige said. “Zoom, zoom, zoom.”


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