Slow down! MPD stepping up speed limit enforcement
By Kandra Wells
Staff Writer
Speeders beware.

The McAlester Police Department is putting to use a $30,000 state grant to help reduce injury and fatal accidents in the area. There are three new speed radars on order for city agency, and the rest will be used to pay officers overtime to patrol and work in areas where traffic accidents happen the most.

“We have anywhere from six to 10 offices a month that are working it,” MPD Capt. Don Hass said of officers paid by the grant. “They pick and choose when they work it and where they work it, as long as it is in an accident prone area. Which most intersections in McAlester are.”

The grant is from the Oklahoma Highway Safety Office and was accepted by the city in November. At the time, Police Chief Jim Lyles said U.S. Highway 69 was one of the areas that would be targeted by the grant, since so many accidents occur along that thoroughfare. Hass agrees.

“Sixty-nine is one of the busiest highways in Oklahoma, so that is where we will focus most of our emphasis,” he said.

The grant aims to reduce accidents this year from the 39 reported in 2006, the latest data available for citywide accidents.

Originally, plans were to buy two speed-detecting radars with the grant funds, but Hass said the agency has three on order.

Eventually, officers will be using the radars to target a higher maximum speed on U.S. Highway 69, thanks to a coming change in the speed limit on the north end of the city. In December, the city council agreed to state proposal to increase the limit from 55 mph to 65 mph from Electric Avenue north to the city limits at Mount Moriah Road.

The increase is being done by the Oklahoma Department of Transportation based on studies showing people are driving that fast along that section of the highway anyway.

ODOT’s “done an engineering analysis and they feel like it’s justified with the new Hereford Lane interchange, the median barriers and other things that they’ve done,” City Engineer George Marcangeli had told the city council in December.

A letter to the city from ODOT cites the interchange, cable barriers installed along the median, and that most motorists are already speeding along that section of the highway as reasons for the higher speed limit.

“We have found that the majority of motorists adjust their speed based upon traffic and roadway conditions and, therefore, tend to drive at the speed they consider safe,” states a Nov. 5 letter to City Manager Mark Roath from ODOT traffic engineer Brian S. Taylor. “When speed limits are not in accord with this, the majority of motorists ignore the speed limit signs, which in-turn builds disrespect for our devices. This is what is taking place at present as reflected by ODOT’s engineering analysis.”

The News-Capital obtained a copy of the analysis by filing a public records request with the state agency.

The analysis includes a 2003 traffic speed study and a letter to then-city manager Randy Green rejecting a city request to raise the speed limit from Hardy Springs to Carl Albert Parkway from 50 mph. It did agree to raised the speed near what was then referred to as the Gene Stipe interchange, now known as Electric, to 60 mph “and transition into a 65-mph zone somewhere south of Hereford Lane should the City concur.”

The analysis also included eight pages of accident data collected from 2005 through 2008. Included is a tally of collisions along that section of highway from 2005 through late 2008. There were 12 wrecks in 2005, 21 in 2006, 15 in 2007 and eight in part of 2008.

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