BATTLE GROUND — For Ron Prentice, life is full of wonder and amazement. It’s just not the wonder and amazement he expected to find when he moved to his rural home off Allworth Road.
For example, he wonders who demolished his mailbox several times in just the last two years. He wonders if he’s going to make it safely out of his driveway each time he leaves his house. And he’s amazed there hasn’t been a fatal crash on his road.
“There are drivers going in excess of 60 to 80 mph,” Prentice said, noting there had been three fatal car accidents in the past two weeks within a 3-mile radius from his house.
Prentice said he called the Clark County Sheriff’s Office and Clark County Public Works but didn’t get the answer he was hoping for. Prentice said he would like to see more officers patrolling for speeders.
“I can’t get Public Works to clean up the county road,” he said. “And the sheriff’s office said their hands are tied.”
Whether east of Battle Ground, north of Camas or south of Ridgefield, Clark County has thousands of miles of rural, two-lane roads. As the county’s population has continued to surge, traffic along these rural roads has equally grown. With narrow widths, sharp curves and the occasional steep hill, most weren’t built to accommodate the increase in drivers.
These rural roads also fall under the state’s “basic rule,” which means speed signs are not posted. The maximum allowable speed for such roads is 60 mph for state highways, 50 mph for county roads and 25 mph for city and town streets.
Despite the need for road improvements, it’s unlikely many will see significant changes any time soon.
“We do have several rural projects that are going forward that are based upon capacity and demonstrated accident problems,” said Rob Klug, engineering division manager for Public Works.
Those projects tend to include heavily traveled intersections with a demonstrated history of wrecks. They also tend to be closer to the Vancouver area.
“We’re looking at what we can do at SR 500 and 182nd Avenue to provide improved safety out there. We’re looking at what we can do for Ward Road at Davis Road — we’re proposing a roundabout out there,” Klug said.
While the more rural areas may not be eligible for big projects like a new roundabout, turn lanes or overpass, there is other work the county says it is doing to make them safer.
Klug said the county looks for smaller, low-cost improvements to enhance safety or mobility that it can get done more quickly. This work can include replacing street signs with new signs designed for better visibility, making sure chip sealing or slurry sealing work is done to keep roads drivable and cleaning out roadway ditches to prevent flooding over roadways.
“There’s actually engineering that goes into all this that people don’t become involved in. Part of the safety work we do is look at what we can do to improve the signs. We evaluate whether the signs are appropriate for the change in conditions, etc. That’s a very low-cost improvement,” Klug said.
No matter how safe the county makes the roads, it can’t make up for drivers speeding along narrow roads with blind spots and wildlife often crossing at dusk and dawn. That requires law enforcement, but Prentice said he rarely sees anyone patrolling his area.
“Given the current climate and situation, we’re not working as much traffic as we used to. Some of that is because of reduced calls, and some is because of reduced staff,” said Sgt. Brent Waddell, public information officer for the Clark County Sheriff’s Office.
With fewer staff available after budget cuts were made to the department in 2020, Waddell said the sheriff’s office must give priority to calls reporting criminal activity or car accidents.
“Traffic enforcement is something we do as needed, it’s just not the norm lately,” Waddell said.
However, while the sheriff’s office doesn’t currently have a long-range plan to increase patrols in the rural areas, Waddell said they will often increase patrols or put speed-detection equipment in place if they receive multiple calls about a specific road or location.
That’s the route Prentice decided to take to get help with his road. Prentice said he and several of his neighbors all made calls to the sheriff’s office to report excessive speeders. On Wednesday, he said he was told a deputy would be out next week to monitor speeds in the area.