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Traffic panel rebuffs request for lower speed on 47

It seemed a lopsided battle.

On one side was an array of reasons why the speed limit should be lowered from 55 to 45 miles per hour on the section of Highway 47 near Fernhill Road/Maple Street.

On the other side, the number 0.7.

The number won out last Thursday, June 19, when Forest Grove Mayor Pete Truax, City Councilor Victoria Lowe, City Manager Michael Sykes and Public Works Department Director Rob Foster traveled to Salem to ask the Oregon Department of Transportation’s Speed Zone Review Panel to give special consideration to the state highway's intersection with Fernhill/Maple.

Their ultimate goal is to get a traffic light at the intersection, but ODOT won't allow a traffic light there unless the speed limit is 45 or lower.

As Foster noted, traffic volume has increased by 55 percent in just two years, from a 1,890 ADT (average daily traffic count) in 2011 to 3,414 ADT in 2013.

And from 2003 to 2013, there were 154 crashes along Highway 47 between B Street and Pacific Avenue.

In addition, the state highway and the land to its south are now within the urban growth boundary and city limits.

And busy sites near the intersection include Fernhill Wetlands, a popular public attraction, and Mid-Columbia Bus Co., where nearly 70 school buses join peak traffic each weekday morning and evening.

“We find a road that cuts the community in two, both north and south, with minimum opportunity to cross 47 from one part of the community to another,” Truax told the panel last Thursday. He noted that his comments were buttressed by 15 to 20 letters from representatives of Pacific University, the Forest Grove School District, Metro, state Sen. Betsy Johnson and “your own ODOT engineers” among others.

Yet the panel pointed to a recent study which found there were only an average of .7 crashes per million-vehicle-miles-traveled on that stretch of Highway 47, while on similar state highways, the crash average is 2.1.

Panel members found the crash rate too low to justify lowering the speed limit. The five panel members include a state trooper, a traffic engineer, a member of the governor's traffic safety commission, and a city employee and county employee — both traffic experts.

“I was very discouraged but I don’t intend to go away now,” Lowe said.

“I don’t think it’s over,” Truax said. “Stay tuned.”



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