By JOSH NEWTON
Take a drive anywhere in Cherokee County, and you’ll likely encounter a speed limit you believe is either too low or too high.
City and county leaders receive regular requests for speed limits to be lowered, and occasionally, someone says a particular speed needs to be increased. But officials consider several factors when trying to determine what limits to impose on area streets.
Within Tahlequah, the city council is responsible for setting speed limits on the roads.
“It’s a pretty straight-forward process,” said Tahlequah Mayor Jason Nichols. “In Tahlequah, if it’s not posted, by ordinance, the maximum speed is 25 mph; if it’s something other than 25, then it is going to be set by the council by ordinance.”
State officials determine speed limits for state highways, and Nichols said they also have input on speed limits for the bypass that encircles the city.
“Other than that, if it’s inside the city, it’s purely a city decision,” said Nichols.
County commissioners set speed limits for county roads, and take several factors into consideration. According to commissioners, the most important factor is the county’s geography, which features curves, hills, valleys and other terrain that could be hazardous at the wrong speeds.
Nichols said the city council typically relies on complaints to decide whether a particular speed limit might need to be changed. A high percentage of those requests are for a lowered limit.
Speeds around Tahlequah and in other places throughout Cherokee County vary – up to as high as 65 on some stretches of road – and are typically lowest near schools or other areas where children might frequent, or in places where fast traffic might be dangerous to pedestrians or drivers.
Nichols said the city is looking at other ways of enforcing speed limits.
“We’re trying to get away from posting signs that are easily ignored,” he said. “We’re trying to get some speed tables and other traffic-calming devices in place in certain areas to compel that speed to be followed.”
Drivers can face a fine of $99 for speeds up to 15 mph over the posted limit on a Tahlequah street; a $124 fine for driving 16-25 mph over the limit; and $174 for speeds more than 25 mph over the posted limits.
Cherokee County District 1 Commissioner Doug Hubbard said the maximum speed on county roads is 45 mph, unless otherwise posted.
“[When considering a speed limit], I just determine traffic usage and look at the location and whether it’s close to a housing addition, or things like if it’s a curvy road,” said Hubbard.
Commissioners receive few calls asking for speed limits to be increased, but they do get occasional requests for lowered limits – especially from residents who suffer the effects of dust on dirt roads, or who are concerned about children playing in the area.
Hubbard said the county also tries to add caution signs in certain areas when a request is made.
According to the Uniform Oklahoma Bond Schedule, drivers who receive speeding tickets in the county can face minimum bonds of $188.50 for 1-10 mph over the limit, all the way up to $411.50 for going more than 36 mph over the limit.
If the speed is broken in a school zone or construction zone, fines can reach from about $200 to more than $616.