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State Studies Higher Speed Limit on Richardson Highway Around North Pole

Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities

The State Department of Transportation is considering raising the speed limit on a stretch of the Richardson Highway through North Pole from 55 to 65 miles per hour. But the agency first wants to make some changes to the highway to ensure safety.

Transportation department spokeswoman Meadow Bailey says DOT has raised the speed limit on several stretches of the Richardson over the past couple of years. And it’s now considering that for some of the 20 miles of four-lane from Eielson Air Force Base to Mitchell Expressway.

She says right now the department is looking at a request by the city of North Pole to boost the speed limit along that part of the Richardson.

“We’re going to talk to Troopers, and North Pole police, and kind of get feedback and thoughts from them on whether they support that, and then if they do what would the timeline be,” she said.

Mayor Bryce Ward says North Pole’s City Council asked DOT to consider raising the speed limit – “Preferably sooner than later.”

Ward says the a higher speed limit makes sense, both because it’ll help people get to where they’re going faster. And because motorists instinctively drive at 65 on a four-lane highway.

“It’s a double-lane, divided highway,” he said. “It’s most common that those types of highways are at a higher speed.”

Ward says people headed northward on the two-lane highway tend to pick up speed once they hit the four-lane.

“It makes not a whole lot of sense when you’re coming from, say, like Delta,” he said. “It’s a single-lane, undivided highway, at 65, until you get to about where in front of Eielson Air Force Base is, and then it goes to a double-lane divided and drops to 55.”

Bailey says a DOT study conducted last summer confirms that many motorists already are driving at about 65 through North Pole. She says that raises a safety issue, because of the difference in speed with other vehicles that are traveling more slowly.

She says DOT also is studying the roadway and its infrastructure. One study for a four-mile stretch from Levee Way to the 6-Mile Badger Road interchange proposes several safety and access improvements to accommodate traffic moving at 65.

The projects would reduce the number of smaller roads intersecting with the highway and re-route traffic to larger intersections. They also include improved frontage roads for local traffic, and additional lanes for vehicles to decelerate to exit the highway, and accelerate when entering.

Bailey says DOT would like to get that work done and boost the speed limit next year.

“2016 is when that project would be completed,” she said. “So really, that’s kind of our ideal situation.”

But, she says just because the speed limit is higher doesn’t mean motorists should be traveling that fast.

“Sixty-five is for ideal conditions. But, again, you need to drive for the current conditions.”

That means, as icy as some stretches of the road is now, people shouldn’t be driving at 65.

Tim has worked in the news business for over three decades, mainly as a newspaper reporter and editor in southern Arizona. Tim first came to Alaska with his family in 1967, and grew up in Delta Junction before emigrating to the Lower 48 in 1977 to get a college education and see the world.