Our View: Time to put the brakes on Highway 174 project | TheUnion.com

Our View: Time to put the brakes on Highway 174 project

The Union Editorial Board

Reality took a left turn and got lost somewhere off Highway 174 this week.

It was at a Nevada County Board of Supervisors meeting when the wheels went off. Caltrans officials were there to update supervisors on the road improvement project. Folks with the Save Highway 174 group were present to oppose.

And then someone mentioned a speed study that recommended the limit be raised on the highway from 45 mph to 50 mph.

A Caltrans spokesperson said the limit won’t get raised at this time, but that doesn’t mean the possibility disappears. It could get hiked years down the road.

For a moment, set aside the seemingly contradictory actions of a road project meant to improve safety coupled with raising the speed limit. Instead examine the reasoning behind raising the limit:

That it should get a 5 mph bump because 85 percent of drivers speed on the highway.

Let’s hope they don’t start applying this logic to crime.

This seemingly arbitrary rule for when speed limits should change highlights the convoluted nature of government bureaucracies. The rules exist and must be followed, regardless of reality.

These same rules are what anger the Save Highway 174 group. Plenty of folks over the past several months have vented over Caltrans’ focus on three years of wrecks to justify the project. Why not use a larger time span when making decisions about which roads get funding? Isn’t three years a minuscule amount of time?

Good question. Caltrans answer: Three years is what the transportation agency uses to determine every project.

Forget it, Jake. It’s Caltrans rules.

Caltrans and the Save Highway 174 group have worked together for months on a compromise both sides can accept — an agreement that’s still out with the jury. But a bureaucracy that blindly follows rules because they exist, and not because they help, isn’t making this process any easier.

In light of this, we need to slow down the Highway 174 project.

Both sides must continue to work toward compromise. We shouldn’t accept that the work is done, but instead must strive for a project that better represents the wishes of those who live on the highway.

It makes no sense to straighten a road to improve its safety and then consider upping the speed limit. Let’s get assurances from Caltrans that it won’t increase the limit, and let’s put more officers on the road to enforce existing speed laws.

There’s a reason we’re spending some $28 million on a road safety project, after all.

Put up some radar signs showing drivers what speeds they’re reaching. Install signs and striping to control drivers’ speeds.

And once this project is done, and the emotions put to rest, let’s re-examine the rules that Caltrans blindly follows.

We should use more than three years when determining what projects receive funding. Caltrans should widen the range instead of falling back on the tired line of “this is how we do things.” Government and private business too often sing that refrain when questioned.

We should rethink the wisdom behind changing the speed limit on a given road because a certain percentage is drivers exceed that limit. It’s a logic that fails when the rubber meets the road. People are involved in serious crashes, some of them fatal. We need quality metrics when selecting safety projects, not rules that change depending on how many people violate them.

It’s time to put the brakes on that type of thinking.

Our View is the consensus opinion of The Union Editorial Board, a group of editors and writers from The Union, as well as informed community members. Contact the board at EditBoard@TheUnion.com.


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