North Fork Speed Protested

Wapiti – People who live between Cody say the new 70 mile per hour speed limit is dangerous for wildlife and humans. It was raised from 65 miles per hour in March. Now, Wyoming’s Department of Transportation is studying whether the speed limit should be lowered again. The road to Yellowstone is shared by hundreds of thousands of tourists, and thousands of elk and deer.
A head on collision killed three German motorcyclists near the forest service border in Wapiti in early June. Another biker died later after being lifeflighted to a Billings hospital.
The first responder on the scene, Steve Haberland said when he first arrived, he wondered if the new higher 70 mph speed limit was to blame.
He commented, “That was the first thing in my mind.”
Although the driver of the truck that crossed the center line was charged with homicide by vehicle, Haberland said the old 65 mph speed limit may have saved lives. The accident happened a few yards inside the Shoshone National Forest’s 50 mile per hour speed limit zone. But, there was no warning sign telling the west bound bikers to prepare to slow down.
Haberland said of the old 65 mph limit, “It would have gave people them more time to react.”
Haberland and his wife Elaine were among several Wapiti residents who showed up at a WYDOT meeting in July to complain about the new speed limit. Elaine said she’s been confronted several times by motorists passing oncoming traffic, speeding toward her car head-on. She said many of her neighbors complain about the same experience.
Elaine said, “I’ve had several instances where in my head, I had to plan, where was I going to go when this collision happens.”
But, in Wapiti Valley, it’s not just humans who share the highway.
Wyoming Game and Fish biologist Doug McWhirter says the resident elk herd is growing, and staying near the highway year around. There are even more wintering mule deer.
McWhirter said, “We may have a couple hundred elk that live in the North Fork corridor year round. We have at least 1000 mule deer that live in Wapiti Valley.”
While conservation and hunting groups have paid thousands to pay for big yellow billboards warning Yellowstone bound visitors about wildlife on the road, many animals pay the price. Dead elk calves, and deer carcasses are visible roadside.
WYDOT Public Relations Specialist Cody Beers said, “We are conducting an independent study statewide on a number of roads.”
Beers said the North Fork corridor is now included in that study.
And, the Senator who sponsored legislation allowing WYDOT to raise the speed limit to 70 on Wyoming’s two lane roads heard people complain about the higher speed limit in Wapiti.
Senator Hank Coe said, “And guess what, I agree with them. I think that WYDOT should seriously look at lowering the speed limit that they created from the forest to the tunnels from 70 back to 65, and maybe even lower than that.”
Beers said some people at the July public meeting supported the faster speed limit. He said the recommendations from the new study will be presented at another public meeting this fall.