Time to slow down traffic near Albertsons?: Council sees need for reduced highway speed

With the new Albertsons drawing more traffic to Powell’s west side, city leaders say it may be time to lower the speed limit on the highway near the store.

“I’m not a big fan of driving slower, per se, but I think on the safety side of things, it’s certainly warranted,” councilman Steve Lensegrav said at Monday’s Powell City Council meeting, “because it has been a mess.”

Since Coulter Avenue is a state highway (U.S. 14A), the Wyoming Department of Transportation is in charge of setting its speed limit. Past studies found the current 45 mph zone is appropriate, but at the city’s request, WYDOT plans to reexamine the issue when Albertsons “kind of loses its new car smell,” said City Streets Superintendent Andy Metzler.

WYDOT spokesman Cody Beers said last month’s opening of the new grocery store probably represents “a fairly major change in traffic patterns” and merits a new traffic study. But he cautioned that the city’s desire to drop the limit to 35 mph “doesn’t mean we’ll lower it.” A change would only be made if the study finds the bulk of drivers are going below the current limit, Beers said.

“You don’t want to set an artificial speed limit,” he said, adding that research has repeatedly proven the majority of people drive the speeds they’re comfortable with.

“They’re not going to slow down based on a white sign,” Beers said.

However, Powell Police Chief Roy Eckerdt — who asked WYDOT to consider slowing the speed back in 2017 and again in 2018 — questions the department’s stance that “if it was dangerous, cars would drive slower.”

“My request was they apply that between Shoshoni and Casper and make that [speed limit faster],” Eckerdt quipped during Monday’s council meeting. In his view, the fact that most cars are currently traveling 45 mph simply shows drivers are obeying the posted limit.

Eckerdt first asked WYDOT to reevaluate the speed after a fatal August 2016 crash near the then-Shopko store (now Albertsons) and he requested another study in 2018. There were seven crashes in that stretch of the highway in both 2021 and 2022, he said, with about half taking place at Mountain View Street.

The Coulter Avenue speed limit changes from 35 to 45 mph (or, for eastbound drivers, from 45 to 35) just east of its intersection with Mountain View Street.

Mayor John Wetzel, who put the issue on Monday’s agenda, said even before Albertsons opened, pulling onto Coulter from Mountain View had become “a challenge.”

It’s only gotten busier with the new business; while recently leaving the grocer’s parking lot, Wetzel said he witnessed “a couple near misses” and ultimately “just took a right turn to go home instead of trying to make the left.”

Lensegrav described a similar experience while passing Albertsons.

“It was a melee; I was surprised there wasn’t a wreck,” he said. “And so the first thing that popped into my head was, is that going to be something we need to look at?”

Councilman Zane Logan said the added traffic has made it important to watch if vehicles are signaling a turn onto Mountain View Street or into the Albertsons parking lot, as the stacking distance “is pretty tight.”

“Then you got somebody that’s trying to get up, exceed the 45 [mph] in that few feet there,” Logan said. “And so it can be a problem right there.”

He added that the highway could get even busier if a planned Dairy Queen is added off Mountain View, on Wyoming Avenue.

When the limit was originally set at 45 mph, Mountain View didn’t connect to the highway, the nearby subdivisions didn’t exist and the building that houses Albertsons pretty much marked the end of town, city officials noted.

Wetzel suggested the 35 mph zone should now be extended by at least a half-mile to the west, to the entrance of the Gateway West business park.

“I just think it needs to be slower further out,” the mayor said. But that decision will ultimately be up to WYDOT.

“It’s the one spot in town that the [city] sign committee … cannot change the speed limit,” said city administrator Zack Thorington.

Beers said the department continually assesses its speed limits and will reevaluate Coulter Avenue once a new traffic study is completed.

“I’m sure as business continues to grow west out of Powell, eventually that speed limit will change,” Beers said.

However, he said the fact that no traffic enters that stretch of Coulter Avenue from the south side of the highway “makes it hard” to justify a lower speed.

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