A slow traffic solution?

  • Saturday, July 16, 2016 1:06pm
  • Opinion

We’ve all been there at one time or another — stuck behind a vehicle going slow enough to hold us up, but just fast enough to make passing safely a difficult proposition.

And at some point, many of us have been driving one of those slow-moving vehicles — maybe we’ve hitched up a trailer, hit the road in the RV, or maybe we’re just not as comfortable driving the narrow, winding roads as fast as other drivers might like — and been frustrated that on many stretches of the Kenai Peninsula’s Highways, there aren’t many options for letting faster-moving vehicles riding our bumper get past.

Last week, the Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities launched a pilot study to see if differential speed limits could help in easing some of those traffic issues. The test area is on the Seward Highway, between the Hope Highway junction and the top of Turnagain Pass. In areas where there are passing lanes, the speed limit in the right lane is 55 mph, and the speed limit in the left lane is 65 mph.

The theory is a good one, with slower moving vehicles keeping to the right lane and limiting their speed, giving faster moving vehicles a better opportunity to safely pass.

Really, the theory should already be standard practice — signs in passing zones already indicate that slower traffic should use the right lane, and that drivers should keep right except to pas. And common courtesy would dictate that if a driver is trying to pass, the polite thing to do would be to slow down a little where it is safe to do so to let them get around.

The differential speed limit study is an attempt to enforce common sense and courtesy by regulation as it often seems to be lacking on the roads these days.

Highway safety continues to be a serious issue on the Kenai Peninsula. As we’ve said in this space before, contributing factors in highway safety include road conditions and driver behavior. Many stretches of peninsula highways haven’t changed significantly in decades, which is a part of the issue. Especially during the summer, peninsula roads see a much higher volume of traffic than they did even 20 years ago, and in many places, barely have a shoulder to speak of — nevermind passing lanes.

Highway improvement projects continue, for example, slow vehicle turnouts were added along the Sterling Highway between Kasilof and Homer, and slowly but surely, drivers are learning how to use them. But peninsula roads still require a different attitude than driving in other places — most of all, patience.

We hope that the differential speed limits will help drivers get where they’re going a little quicker, and ease some of the traffic frustrations.

But we also hope that driver will acknowledge the Seward and Sterling highways should not be confused with an interstate, and encourage all drivers — fast and slow — to remember that a little courtesy can go a long way.

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