What can you get away with beyond a ‘Road Closed’ sign?

The in basket: Gary Felt, who lives just outside the city of Port Orchard on Highway 166, and says it “is often closed due to mud slides, or sometimes just the fear of a slide,” wants to know what he is allowed to do when that happens.

“What are the rights of a person who lives on, owns property on, or owns a business on a road when it is ‘closed,'” Gary asks. “Does it make a difference if the sign says ‘Local Traffic Only’ or ‘Detour’ as opposed to just ‘Road Closed?’

“If I live/own property and the only access is via this road may I drive around the barriers, walk around the barriers, or must I abandon my property? What if I have left my property and approach the barricade from the ‘closed’ side, am I breaking a law?”

Gary described a situation in which an officer followed him past the barricades during a “Local Traffic Only” period, nearly to the other end of the closure, where his driveway was. Just as he reached the driveway and signaled a turn, the officer turned on his emergency light bar, then turned it off immediately and went back to town.

The out basket: I posed the questions to Chief Al Townsend of Port Orchard police, whose officers have jurisdiction over most of Highway 166, though not right at Gary’s’s driveway.

He said a lot is left to the discretion of the officer. “Local Traffic Only” offers more latitude than “Road Closed,” since the latter may anticipate a problem, like a gas leak exploding or an unstable hillside giving way, rather than sealing off one that already has occurred.

And it depends whether the person is caught inside the outer barriers, designed to detour traffic from going where it would just have to turn around and come back, and the inner barriers designed to keep drivers from actually running into the reason for the closure.

You’d be more likely to get a ticket if you are inside the inner barriers.

But even then, the owner of a home or business in the closed area normally can arrange to get there by calling the road department or police department to get permission in advance, Al said. At worst, the caller would learn that the emergency is dire enough that he really shouldn’t be near it.

The city of Port Orchard has an ordinance making it illegal to violate an emergency road closure, which is a misdemeanor that requires an appearance in court. The officer might choose between it and citing for failure to comply with a regulatory sign, a traffic infraction.

Al said if stopped, a person who can show that he was trying to reach a particular home or business within the closure normally would be allowed to proceed. If nothing else, it would be a “clear mitigating factor” to use in challenging the citation in court, he said.

An officer is free to follow a car outside the city limits and cite the driver if he passed through the closure and wasn’t “local traffic” going to somewhere within it, he said.

“A lot of times, when we have had slides,” he said, “people think they can go down there and meander through the mess and get by, or there may be DOT workers in the midst and now they are dodging workers and equipment to try to get through.

Bicycles must comply the same as the driver of a car. Pedestrians can continue if there is a sidewalk and it isn’t closed, Al said. If there is no sidewalk, such as along most of Highway 166 west of Port Orchard, the closer one got to being in the way of road crews or getting hurt, the more likely that he could be cited, Al said.

Finally, he said, a driver who chances going into the closed stretch and his car is damaged might find his insurance company reluctant to cover what it would have on a road that isn’t closed.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Before you post, please complete the prompt below.

(Not a trick question) What color is the pink house?