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Jefferson County Supervisors discuss reducing speed limit east of Fairfield

Discussion prompted by double fatality in October

Union photo by Andy Hallman

A pair of traffic signs with flashing yellow lights and bearing the words “Watch for Turning Traffic” were installed on East Burlington Avenue in Fairfield in the aftermath of a double fatality on the road in October 2019.
Union photo by Andy Hallman A pair of traffic signs with flashing yellow lights and bearing the words “Watch for Turning Traffic” were installed on East Burlington Avenue in Fairfield in the aftermath of a double fatality on the road in October 2019.
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FAIRFIELD — The Jefferson County Board of Supervisors had a lively discussion Monday, Feb. 24, about how to improve safety on a road where a collision claimed the lives of two people last fall.

The road in question is East Burlington Avenue, and specifically where it intersects with the driveway to Parkview Care Center on the east edge of Fairfield. In October, two people were killed when the vehicle they were riding in swerved to miss a car that had stopped at that intersection to turn into Parkview and subsequent struck an oncoming vehicle head-on.

In the aftermath of that accident, authorities put up a pair of signs with flashing yellow lights alerting motorists of turning traffic ahead, at the Parkview driveway. At Monday’s meeting, Supervisor Daryn Hamilton suggested the county could reduce the speed limit in the area from 55 miles per hour to 45 miles per hour.

“The idea of lowering the speed limit is the first step in trying to solve the problem,” Hamilton told The Union later. “It’s not a solution, and nobody was offering that as a final solution to the problem. It’s more that we want to slow traffic down to raise awareness of what’s going on.”

Jefferson County Sheriff Gregg Morton was present for the meeting and said that the stretch of road in question is no more accident prone than any other in the county. In the past 25 years, he found only two serious accidents at that location, including the fatalities in October. He was skeptical that changing the speed limit would succeed in actually forcing motorists to slow down. He reported sitting there in his vehicle recording the speed of passing cars, and found that they were only going a few miles over the posted speed limits.

“I don’t think this change will have the outcome you want,” Morton told Hamilton. “We need to change traffic patterns, not the speed limit signs.”

Hamilton said the county has had success reducing accidents by changing speed limit signs on roads such as Gear Avenue. However, he acknowledged that there are better ways to make that road safer, but they’re all very expensive. Moving a speed limit sign, on the other hand, was comparatively cheap, he said. He didn’t see the harm in at least trying to slow down drivers with a different posted speed limit.

The county is in talks with the Fairfield city government about altering its speed limit sign that’s just inside the city limits. For motorists leaving Fairfield on East Burlington, the speed limit rises to 55 mph just before crossing a bridge near the driveway to Parkview Care Center. In order for the county to reduce its speed limit to 45 in that area, the city would have to agree to reduce its speed limit, too, because traffic in both directions must be going the same speed according to a state law. In fact, Hamilton remarked that the problem is worse on the city’s side, for the traffic leaving town to the east, than it is on the county’s portion of the road, the traffic entering the town.

Supervisor Dee Sandquist said she opposed changing the speed limit in the area because she didn’t feel the data warranted it. She remarked that two accidents in 25 years do not constitute a “trend,” and that the county shouldn’t lower speed limits after every accident.

Hamilton said the alternatives to changing the speed limit sign included adding a turning lane for traffic wishing to enter Parkview’s driveway, or relocating Parkview’s driveway.

“I don’t believe the city or the county would have the money to help Parkview do that,” said Hamilton, who added that adding a turning lane would cost about $1 million.

The supervisors ultimately voted to table the agenda item until hearing more from the Fairfield City Council about its desire to change its speed limit sign.