Chief says new rules are 'easy to enforce,' but residents are already lining up with queries"God help the tourists!" said Astoria resident Ernie Barrows, commenting on confusing rules on how fast drivers are allowed to go near Astoria schools.
His comments came during a presentation on new state-mandated school zone speed laws at Wednesday's Astoria City Council meeting. The presentation was led by Mike Spaeth, local ODOT district manager, and Mike Sowder, Astoria school district superintendent.
Although Astoria Police Chief Rob Deu Pree said the new speed laws are "simple to enforce and simple to understand," they seemed a bit confusing to some people in the audience.
With the exception of West Marine Drive in front of Astoria High School, 20 mph is the new speed limit for driving past schools inside Astoria city limits. The rule is in affect 24 hours a day, seven days a week, whether or not children are present.
The speed limit for the high school zone is also 20 mph - but only during specific hours listed on the sign, and only when school is in session. Sowder said the hours now listed are 7 a.m. to noon and 2 p.m. to 4 p.m., but he and Mike Spaeth, district manager for the Oregon Department of Transportation, are working to change that time period to 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. with no break for lunch.
Council member Blair Henningsgaard said it's difficult to read the small print on the sign in front of the high school. He asked Spaeth if it could be bigger. "It's an issue I'll have to share with the traffic section (of ODOT)," said Spaeth, who said he had already received several calls about that problem.
One Astoria school, Lewis and Clark Elementary, is located on a county road outside Astoria where the regular speed limit is 35 mph. The school zone speed limit is 20 mph from 7:30 to 8:30 a.m. and 2:30 to 3:30 p.m., only on school days, a Clatsop County Public Works Department spokeswoman said today.
Sowder said motorists who disobey the new law will face stiff fines: $123 for traveling 21 to 30 mph in a 20 mph zone; $201 for traveling 31 to 40 mph; $349 for 41 to 50 mph; and $672 for traveling over 50 mph in a 20 mph zone.
Sowder was asked if the same rules would apply for Star of the Sea, the parochial school at 14th Street and Grand Avenue. He had not heard of the school, but Deu Pree said the same 20 mph speed limit at all times would be in effect there, too.
The school zone speed limits for crosswalks that are not adjacent to a school, such as the one on Seventh Street hill at Klaskanine Avenue, are posted on the school zone sign. That particular one will be in effect only when flashing.
Spaeth said Neahkanie High School has flashing lights to indicate when the school speed limit is in effect, but Sowder said that option would be far too expensive for Astoria. Seaside High School's 20 mph speed limit is in effect from 7 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. only on school days. Broadway Middle School in Seaside has a 20 mph speed posted for 7:30 to 8:30 a.m. and 2:30 to 3:30 p.m. on school days. For Warrenton High School, it's 6 a.m. to 8 a.m. and 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. on school days.
Motorists throughout the state will need to pay attention to information on speed zone signs, Deu Pree said. He said there will be a transition period for Astoria motorists before strict enforcement begins.