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Bull Lake group moving ahead on speed limit issue

| October 4, 2006 12:00 AM

By BRENT SHRUM Western News Reporter

A group of Bull Lake residents is gearing up for what could be an uphill struggle to convince state officials to reduce speed limits on Montana Highway 56.

Last month, the group asked the county commissioners to submit a formal request to the state Department of Transportation for a speed study on the highway from county line near the south end of the lake to Dorr Skeels Campground at the north. The state has acknowledged receipt of the request.

"Usually, that's the end of it until they come up to do the study," said Commissioner John Konzen.

Konzen expects it to be about a year until the study is undertaken.

"They get to it when they get to it is my understanding," he said.

In the meantime, area residents pushing for the study are organizing a letter-writing campaign and learning about how the process works. More than 25 people met Saturday at Little Joe's to discuss the issue, with those in attendance showing overwhelming support for a speed limit reduction from 70 mph to 55 mph along the length of the lake, said Betty Sikes, one of the organizers of the campaign.

A potential stumbling block may be what Sikes called "a silly little law" under which the state places heavy emphasis on the speeds already being driven by a majority of vehicles. When conducting a speed study, the state determines the speed under which 85 percent of vehicles are traveling, and "if people are going the speed limit or above, they won't reduce," Sikes said.

"Maybe it has to be changed, and that would start with the Legislature," she said.

Konzen pointed out that the state does give some consideration to the reasons being given by those requesting reduced speed limits as well as to the history of accidents along a stretch of highway.

"Of course they don't ever take near misses, because they don't get recorded," he said.

With the Bull Lake area's growing population, there have been a few of those, Sikes said.

"Out here at the Angel Island turnoff there are some brand new screech marks where someone almost rear-ended somebody turning in," she said.

A short 55 mph zone already exists in the area of the Halfway House. Sikes and others are hoping to see that extended both north and south.

Another reduced speed zone is in place around Savage Lake and was the result of a concerted lobbying effort by area residents. After being denied once, the group asked the state highway commission to reconsider and finally reached a compromise that saw the speed limit for the area reduced to 55 mph rather than the 45 mph that had been requested, Konzen said.

Similar efforts to enact reduced speed limits for U.S. Highway 2 around Happy's Inn have failed, however.

"They reject more than they ever approve," Konzen said.