Are Speed Limit Signs (or lack thereof) Disrespectful to Drivers?

By Merrill Gehman, an Alaska NMA Member

If those who establish, post, and enforce work zone, detour, and other temporary site speed limit signs wonder why so many drivers don’t obey these signs, I can show them a good example. There are a significant number of these sites where drivers are just not respected.

Usually, the DOT gets it right by indicating through signage when to slow down before a work zone or a temporary lane restriction and keep up with that information while driving through the zone. However, many times when drivers leave the site, that same DOT does not let drivers know when normal speed can be regained.

Every year in Alaska, south of Anchorage at the 113 mile marker, the highway department temporarily restricts lanes away from an adjacent rock wall due to clinging ice that threatens to fall.

Credit: Xnatedawgx

The enforceable speed limit is 35 mph in the jog away from the icefall. When you leave this jog, drivers should be able to get right back to 55 mph, the standard speed limit here on the Seward Highway.

Well, there’s no speed limit until two-tenths of a mile, then there’s a 45 mph speed limit sign. In another one-tenth of a mile, there’s another sign that indicates a 55 mph speed limit.

Ok, not perfect, but the highway department could let us get up to the top speed sooner. Apparently, the highway department has its reasons, and I can respect that somewhat.

Southbound, though, it’s a different story.

When drivers leave the icefall jog, they have to go three-tenths of a mile until they get to the 45 mph sign. Then it takes another seven-tenths of a mile to the 55 mph sign—a full mile from where any icefall could affect any driver.

In April 2021, I asked the man in charge of posting these signs why this sign confusion happened, and he said he’d look into it.

I later ran into the man he sent down to look at this particular signage issue, and after talking to him, he said he would change it to comply with the standards for such a site.

Two days go by, and no change. I called the man in charge again. This time, he says, “We’re not going to change it.”

A little upset, I sent an email to the top man in DOT engineering to help us, motorists, out here with these speed limit signs. I also find and explain to the two police officers that patrol that stretch of road about the illegal, or at least inappropriate, posting in that stretch of the road. I’m sure they did not care much.

In 2020 at the start of the pandemic, this site was posted with enforceable 25 mph signs, and when drivers got out of the icefall jog, there was no end detour sign and no speed limit signs for a mile or more each way.

Last year, I told the engineering department about the oversight, and they did change it, but I’m wondering if this will be the yearly habit.

Most drivers are pretty savvy. They feel, or may even know that after three-tenths of a mile, they should be passing a sign that says they’re allowed to go on their way at the normal speed limit legally.

This gray area is speed trap central for local cops and highway patrol. They write many citations, make a lot of cash, and probably meet some quota without working too hard. Policing for profit is alive and well!

Motorists who are driving the posted speed limit (a ridiculously low speed for no apparent reason sometimes) usually have a line of angry drivers behind them.

If you drive a road like this daily and know the speed limit posting is wrong, what can you do?

These disrespectful sign postings teach drivers to ignore speed limit signs, which will likely get them in trouble with the law enforcement community at another site and time.

We’re all in this together! There needs to be education and respect for all of us.

Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in this newsletter are those of the author.

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