EAGLE POINT — Oregon Department of Transportation traffic engineers pulled out their radar guns last week and pointed them at traffic flowing over Highway 62 through Eagle Point.
They were conducting a speed-zone investigation to determine whether the speed limit within the city limits could be reduced from 55 to 45 mph.
The speed check came at the request of the City Council, whose members said they believed a lower speed limit was necessary because of the many new businesses built along the highway, particularly between Dutton Road on the south and Linn Road on the north.
"It can probably be dropped pretty easily," said ODOT Traffic Engineer Dan Dorrell, "unless the 85th percentile is way too high, but I don't expect it to be. I don't think people are doing 70 through here.
"It's not my decision whether I can raise or lower it. It's not an emotional decision. It's a standardized engineering practice."
Councilwoman Kathy Sell asked for an explanation of the 85th percentile. Dorrell explained that it was the speed at or below which 85 percent of the vehicles are traveling.
"We'll take a bunch of radar shots from the VA Domiciliary through Eagle Point to determine what that percentile speed is," he said. "If that speed is really high, then it's going to be difficult to lower it."
"It seems so odd," said Mayor Russell, "that if people are driving too fast we can't. That's why we want to lower the speed."
"Most people think you just put up a sign to lower the speed," Dorrell said, "but that's not how it works. If you have an open roadway, people are going to drive what they think is a comfortable speed. So if you arbitrarily lower the speed from say 65 to 45, it's been proven historically that accidents increase."
Dorrell said that even if the 85th percentile speed turned out to be too high, he thought it still might be possible to lower the speed limit.
"If it comes in too high," he said, "then I'll come back and show you how to appeal to the speed-zone board.
"If it's inside the city limits, it's easier for us to lower it, because we want to try and do what local jurisdictions want, if we can. If it was out in the country, it would be more difficult."
Dorrell said results of the speed survey should be available early next week.
At their December meeting, the council also had asked that left-turn signals onto the highway be changed from a flashing yellow to a steady green to reduce the chance of a driver striking a pedestrian.
"One thing everybody noticed," Russell said, "is right away those lights were changed. Thank you."
"There are other things we can do," Dorrell said. "We could phase those signals, which means that only one side at a time would go, but that would slow traffic down a little bit."
"It's actually not backing up now, and it's flowing smoothly," said Public Works Director Robert Miller.