Within the last few of months, a number of accidents — one fatal — occurred on state Highway 133 between the Blair water tower and the entrance to Mutual of Omaha. The speed limit on the highway is 70 miles per hour, but only drops to 50 near Mutual of Omaha.
Whatever the ultimate factors contributing to accidents are, speed tends to top the initial considerations. Front Office Manager Shauna Gerke and reporter Daniel Buhrman are asking whether the speed limit should be lowered between the water tower and that entrance to Mutual of Omaha.
Burhman: Keep it where it is, at least for now
I think the speed limit between the water tower and Mutual of Omaha is fine where it is right now. My reason for this is outside of whether the speed or people's driving practices and attention are the main contributors to accidents, though these should certainly be considered when it comes to speed and safety. I think it could be a logistical problem to enforce and, when not being enforced, people would just drive fast anyway.
When I say people would just drive fast anyway, that is not to excuse that behavior. People should follow the posted laws and slow down when they are supposed to slow down. That is what is safe. But, I've seen it on the highway in this area and it doesn't seem narrow to say, that human behavior is what it is. When no police presence is in the area, when no one can see a police car, many are going to go as fast as they can to the point they believe they can still handle their car. I've seen people go 70 mph all the way up to the roundabout now. To reiterate, they should slow down before, but would a change to 65 or 60, or a staggering of the speed from 70 to 60 to 50 dissuade these people from going fast?
It is a difficult conundrum, one which knows something should be done to prevent accidents and promote safety, but one which also recognizes the nature of people.
That is why law enforcement patrol this area now. I've seen Nebraska State Patrol vehicles driving near the area, and I've seen Washington County sheriff's deputies parked at the roundabout up to around the Mutual of Omaha area or before. If the speed limit were reduced earlier, at say the water tower, from 70 to 60 then 50 at Mutual, where should the law enforcement patrol? Do they patrol at each stagger of speed? How often should they patrol? During commute times, all day?
Until these logistical issues and questions can be answered, I don't think a staggered speed between the water tower and Mutual would make much impact on the overall safety that is there. If there's any chance for increased safety, which would also need to be answered through research to see if it's really the case, I would think lowering the speed for the whole highway would work better. Maybe then people would already be going slower, or caught by state troopers and deputies which I see almost every morning farther south from Blair than the water tower, before the area which a number of accident have occurred.
There's no question safety is important and anything that can be shown to increase it done, but I don't know of any information right now myself that can say this would work or not.
Gerke: Speed should be lowered
A couple months ago there was a fatal accident on state Highway 133 at the County Road P26 intersection. Ever since then, I’ve wondered if a reduced speed limit in that area would’ve made a difference. At this point, there is no way of knowing that, but I still feel the speed limit should taper down from 70 mph to 60 mph at CR P26 (where the water tower sits) for several reasons.
I grew up in a house right off CR P26. Before the highway was widened, it was always a scary proposition to make a left turn and head north into town. I will never forget the first time I had to drive my manual transmission car to school from that intersection. I was petrified I would dump the clutch while trying to get out on the highway and get creamed by someone going 55 mph. Now, people are dodging cars going 70-plus mph. It is unsafe and really needs to be changed.
I was (and still am) a big proponent for the widening of state Highway 133. It needed to be done and is a great benefit to those traveling between Blair and Omaha on the “high road.” However, as travelers get closer to Blair, the speed limit needs to reduce by the water tower, instead of at the top of the hill by Mutual of Omaha. If you think about it, the speed reduces to 65 mph by the state Highway 36 lights when you’re headed in to Omaha, so why wouldn’t it reduce to 65 mph, preferably 60 mph, at the last major intersection heading in to Blair?
According to the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices, “research has demonstrated that large reductions in the speed limit increase speed variance and the potential for crashes. Smaller reductions in the speed limit of up to 10 mph cause smaller changes in speed variance and lessen the potential for increased crashes. A reduction in the regulatory speed limit of only up to 10 mph from the normal speed limit has been shown to be more effective.”
By that theory, going from 70 mph down to 50 mph, as is the normal now, is not recommended.
If anyone from the State of Nebraska Roads Department is reading this, please help me work to get that speed limit reduced from 70 mph to 60 mph on Highway 133 at CR P26. It will minimize accidents and save a lot of folks who live in that area and the areas feeding onto Highway 133 safer.