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Gold Hill wants to slow down drivers

GOLD HILL — A retired local building inspector, fed up with speeding trucks and careless motorists mowing down his neighbors' pets, has helped push an effort that by month's end should lower speed limits through the center of the city.

State traffic engineers approved a plan this week that would reduce speed limits on Second Street between the two bridges at either end of town. The roadway also takes in portions of state highways 99 and 234.

Concerned with speeding truck traffic and stories from neighbors of near-misses or even the death of pets, resident Ditson Hendricks petitioned the Jackson County Traffic Advisory Committee this spring, asking for lower speed limits and even a signal in the downtown core.

Hendricks said he was pleased to see the changes would likely take place — a final sign-off is required from City Hall after state traffic engineers finalized the plan this week — though he admitted he had hoped for bigger changes, including even lower speed limits and a traffic signal.

"The study showed that in front of my house, the average speed is 53 miles per hour and that people didn't slow down for the s-curve," Hendricks said.

"People fly by here still and over the bridge that's 45 (mph). I still really would like to see it be 35, but I'm happy that it's being lowered at all."

Under the pending plan, a total of six separate speed zones would be reduced to three.

Speed limits would be changed from 55 mph to 45 mph from Del Rio Vineyard to a nearby s-curve and an existing 35 mph speed zone reduced to 25 mph.

State Department of Transportation spokesman Gary Leaming said this week that state traffic engineers approved the speed reductions and that a study would soon begin to drop speed limits at the east end of town from 30 to 25 mph, with plans underway for a four-way stop at the intersection of highways 99 and 234.

"The two projects are kind of separate. We did a speed zone analysis from the Blackwell Road intersection, south of the bridge, all the way to Rock Point," Leaming said.

Leaming noted the city also asked for a signal at the intersection of highways 234 and 99.

"We just don't think it's going to be warranted," he said.

With signalized intersections costing roughly $500,000, Leaming noted, "We think a four-way stop is going to be just fine with the volume of traffic that goes through that intersection. It's a nice interim step."

City Manager Rick Hohnbaum said the City Council had already agreed to seek slower speed limits through town at the time of Hendricks' petition, and that approval was likely at a council meeting this month.

Leaming said work could take place by month's end for the speed reductions and possibly the four-way stop.

"Council had already signed off on it before. ODOT is asking for concurrence, so I'll take it back to the council on July 9, but I expect it to be automatic," Hohnbaum said.

"I think everyone is in agreement that the speeds are excessive through town. We have had six different speeds posted between the bridge and downtown and some people thought that was a little confusing."

Hendricks said he was pleased that the city would have "more reasonable" posted speeds through its downtown and that it would bring Gold Hill more in line with typical speed limits through towns.

He noted, "If you hit any small town that's only two lanes, cars are going 25."

Buffy Pollock is a freelance writer living in Medford. E-mail her at buffyp76@yahoo.com.

Ditson Hendricks helped push an effort to reduce the speed limit and slow traffic that now often barrels through the center of Gold Hill. Mail Tribune / Bob Pennell