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Hit the brakes! Russell speed limit drops to 25 mph in school zone

By Sherry Devlin/Missoula Current

Missoula drivers, take note: If you’re driving past Russell School on school days between 7 a.m. and 6 p.m., slow down.

The City Council on Monday lowered the speed limit on Russell between Ernest and McDonald avenues to 25 mph during those times.

And it may eventually come back and extend the slower speed to 24/7/365.

In fact, if Ward 4 City Council Jon Wilkins and members of the neighborhood council had their way, the speed limit would always be 25 mph on that slice of Russell Street.

Wilkins was the lone “nay” vote on the motion Monday, because he wanted the lower speed at all times. Children must cross Russell in that area in the summer and on weekends, too, he said.

It’s near the Little League fields and lots of children use the Russell School playground and nearby parks, Wilkins said. It’s on the way to the swimming pool and the shopping center.

Drivers won’t adhere to the lower speed limit because it is only in effect on school days, Wilkins warned. “We need that speed 24/7. It’s just common sense.”

But the other 11 council members disagreed, and Councilwoman Heidi West said she believed the limited speed reduction was “a good compromise.”

Wilkins countered: “This is not a compromise. It was the engineer’s way or no way. That’s not a compromise.”

Councilwoman Gwen Jones said she believes the limited hours will actually encourage adherence to the lower speed, as drivers will understand the reason they need to slow to 25 mph.

“I think 24/7 would dilute it,” Jones said. “People would start ignoring it. By targeting, we will get better compliance, and that will make the street safer for those kids.”

“I do hope we observe what happens this summer, as children try to get to the school for the lunch program,” West said. “I do want us to monitor Russell and look at whether we need to extend the hours and days.”

Ward 4 Councilman John DiBari said data collected on Russell Street “indicates the predominant behavior on that portion is speeding.” Still, he said, he believes the installation of signs about the speed limit change, increased traffic enforcement by the police department and the existing stop light (activated by pedestrians wanting to cross Russell) will be effective.

“There’s a chance it won’t work,” he said. “But there’s also a chance it will work.”