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Slow Down: Citizens aim to put brakes on speed limit

February 2, 2012

The speed limit coming in to Broken Bow on West Highway 2, has been a topic of conversation at community meetings and coffee shops for the past few months. Now one local business entity has decided to do something more than just talk.

KCNI/KBBN radio, and in particular it’s news director Julie Toline and owner/general manager Dave Birnie, have stepped up to the plate and launched an all-out campaign on the speed limit law for a one and a half mile stretch of Highway 2. The campaign is called “Put On The Brakes”, and is designed to get the community to be proactive - rather than reactive.

Toline says she first noticed the traffic/speed problem on that stretch of highway when she started working at the radio station a little more than a year ago. Her interest really peaked, however, at a meeting in December 2011, when a representative from the Nebraska Department of Roads, Vic Larson, addressed the issue at a Custer County Board of Supervisors meeting.

The issue was brought to the supervisors’ attention when administration and staff members of Jennie Melham Medical Center in Broken Bow, wrote a letter to the Board suggesting they request a speed limit reduction on West Highway 2. Their request was prompted, they said, by a desire to create a safer environment for local citizens and travelers through Broken Bow.

In addressing the issue at that Board meeting, Larson said speed studies had been done on the highway in 1987, 1995, 2008, and earlier in 2011, and no changes were warranted by the State. Larson went on to say that the Nebraska Department of Roads would not reduce the speed limit at this time.

Larson told the Board and the citizens in attendance that “decisions like this cannot be made based on fear and emotion.”

“I would like to see Mr. Larson sitting here waiting to pull out on the highway with a big 18-wheeler taking to the shoulder to go around a vehicle, and not have any fear or emotion,” Toline said in response to Larson’s remark.

In the eyes of many citizens, including Toline, the number of accidents that have occurred on this 1.5 miles of Highway 2 in the past 10 years should be justification enough for the speed limit reduction. According to reports from the Nebraska Department of Roads, there have been 27 accidents, including two fatalities and 16 injury accidents, in the past decade.

“Put On The Brakes” is a petition drive aimed at getting as many citizens, both in Broken Bow and elsewhere, involved as possible. People are encouraged to visit the website for the campaign and sign the petition, and are also encouraged to share any personal stories of accidents or near-misses they have. As of press time, more than 500 people had already signed the petition - and it was just launched Monday!

Adding to an already dangerous situation, a number of new businesses and the community college have been built along this stretch of highway in the past year, increasing the traffic in that area and making entering and exiting these developments extremely dangerous, says Toline.

In response, the City of Broken Bow has requested a speed limit reduction to 45 mph that would start at the west edge of the new Trotter’s Service Center. Toline and the many supporters of the campaign believe this reduction in the speed limit is a good first step - however, they believe the speed limit should be reduced to 45 mph all the way west past Grassland Veterinary Clinic to mile marker 276. They also are pushing for turning lanes to be added for businesses along this busy stretch of highway.

“This petition is meant to be a proactive approach to the public safety of drivers before more lives are lost or altered by injury,” says Toline.

Both citizens and officials of the City of Broken Bow have expressed concerns that once these new businesses are running at full capacity, it may be too late to avoid big problems on the west side of Broken Bow. In her news coverage of that December Board of Supervisors meeting, Toline included Larson’s comments to the Board.

Larson commented on that story on the radio station’s web site, writing “If an existing speed limit does not withstand the scrutiny of a traffic engineering study, then the speed limit will be changed. The NDOR will gather the facts, analyze, and then determine whether changes should be made.”

The website for the “Put On The Brakes” campaign was designed and is maintained by Sarah Russell. She has also been working closely with Toline to help promote the petition to the public.

“We want as many people as possible to be part of this petition,” says Russell.

The plan is to have the website run for about two weeks, gathering signatures and comments. Toline and Russell will then compile all of that information and send it to a long list of officials, including: Senator John Wightman, Senator Deb Fischer, Governor Dave Heineman, Lt. Governor Rick Sheehy, Nebraska Highway Safety Administrator Fred Zwonechek, NDOR Director Monty Fredrickson, District 6 Highway Commissioner Ron Brooks, NDOR District Manager Gary Thayer, State Senator Mike Johanns, Congressman Adrian Smith, and Nebraska State Patrol Captain Jim Parish.

Here is a sampling of just a few of the comments that have posted on the website.

“I was driving out to Trotters this morning (Wednesday, Feb. 1) and was stopped to turn left off of highway 2. I looked in my rear view mirror and saw a car coming up on me very fast. I pulled over to the right on to the cemetery road to avoid being hit. We need to make a change!”
- Donna Lawson

“I live on the Callaway Road west of Highway 2 and I see near misses almost every day. Just today (Wednesday Feb. 1) I saw a fully loaded semi lock up his brakes right in front of the radio station because there was a truck traveling at a slower speed and the semi didn't see until it was almost too late.”
- Andy Jonas

“Must more people die on this stretch of highway for something to be done? The speed limit must be reduced to allow the slower traffic turning in and out of Trotter's. Please reduce the speed limit before another person looses their life.”
- Donna Wenquist

“The west end of Broken Bow is not the same as it was 20 years ago. Why do we have the same speed limit?”
- Douglas Bazyn

“I grew up crossing the Callaway Rd/Hwy 2 intersection and still cross it daily. I have witnessed accidents and several near accidents from people going too fast to notice cars that are waiting to turn and cars that are crossing Hwy 2. With 2 younger brothers still in high school, I worry every day about them crossing Hwy 2 with the speed limit where it is currently set. This speed limit change is a necessity, and there's a long list of accidents to prove it.”
- Mitchell Coleman

These are just a few of the comments that were posted the day this article went to press. The accounts of accidents, near misses and complete scares goes on and on.

To sign the petition, share your personal stories and view comments others have made, you can access the petition at www.custercountychief.com, and click on Community Links, or visit www.kbbn.com

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