WENATCHEE — Motorists will want to slow their speed on Chelan County roads beginning next month.
Chelan County Commissioners signed off Tuesday on an agreement between the Sheriff’s and Public Works departments that starts a new traffic safety enhancement program. The program will result in tougher traffic enforcement and more tickets on county roads.
“There will be more traffic stops,” said Sheriff Brian Burnett. “It’s about keeping our highways safe and reducing liability to the county.”
The program will add one new deputy to the force starting next month who will work exclusively on traffic safety, Burnett said. The deputy will patrol school zones during the week and keep an eye open for drivers who are speeding, not wearing seatbelts or violating hands-free phone laws. On weekends, he said the deputy will focus more on speeders and aggressive, reckless and intoxicated drivers on busy county roads. The deputy will also be involved in investigation of traffic accidents and weight restriction enforcement on Chelan County roads.
County roads likely to be patrolled include Entiat River Road, Chumstick Highway and Squilchuck Road. The deputy won’t patrol city roads or state highways.
Funding for the $120,000 program will initially come from Chelan County Public Works. Another deputy will be added to the unit in July if revenues from tickets can support the program, said Mitch Reister, Public Works director. The new deputies would add to a program that Public Works has funded for several years to pay for one part-time deputy to deal with weight restrictions, commercial vehicle inspections and road construction. If all goes well, the program could add a sergeant next year to oversee the unit, he said. An education component could also be added.
The program will be tracked closely to keep costs in line and find out if accidents can be decreased, Reister said. Any revenue generated above the cost of the deputies could be used for road improvements that contribute to traffic safety.
“The ides is about safety, not about creating revenue,” he said.
The county doesn’t have money to fund the program or hire more deputies without other sources of revenue, but this is a way to increase road safety, lower liability to the county from lawsuits and add deputies who could be used for other emergencies, Reister added.
“Road safety is not always something you can engineer,” he said. “There’s a behavioral component that requires traffic enforcement. Excessive speed is responsible for about 50 percent of accidents.”
Rick Steigmeyer: 664-7151