First Baptist Church of Orange, shown in background, which is located on Martin Luther King Jr. Drive in Orange, as well as Faith United Methodist Church of Orange, are interested in having the speed limit lowered from 70 mph to 55 mph out of safety concerns for members of their congregations. Photo by Tommy Mann Jr.

Tommy Mann Jr. – For The Record

Two local churches are expressing concern for the safety of their congregation and have begun the process to request a speed limit reduction on a stretch of road in Orange.

The speed limit on a large portion of Martin Luther King Jr. Drive north of Interstate 10 is set at 70 mph. However, for two churches located along MLK Drive, concerns have become paramount for members of each churches congregation as they enter and exit those locations.

First Baptist Church Orange, which is located directly in the middle of a curve along MLK, and Faith United Methodist Church, which is located on the extreme northern side of MLK and is immediately where the limit reduces to 55 mph from 70 mph, are both interested in having the speed limit permanently reduced.

The long process began at a recent meeting of Orange County Commissioners Court when Commissioner David Dubose, Precinct 1, asked for a resolution be approved by Commissioners Court to have the speed limit reduced.

“I had the pastors from one of the churches approach me about this,” Dubose said. “They worry that 70 miles per hour is just too fast. It’s such a concern that First Baptist Church instructs everyone to turn right out of the parking lot when they leave the church because traffic is moving too fast.”

Pastor Barry Bradley of First Baptist Church Orange said the speed limit has been a concern since the church relocated from its previous site to the MLK property.

“We bought this property in 2003 and moved in to the church here in 2013,” Bradley explained. “Before we moved in, during that 10 year period, we had three different incidents where people had lost control of their vehicles and driven through our fence we have on the property. Fortunately, in the three years we’ve been here, it hasn’t happened yet.”

Bradley said a congregation member from Faith United Methodist Church and its pastor approached him with concerns about the speed limit as well, which is what spurred the combined effort of the two churches.

“Safety is our primary concern,” Bradley added. “Like every church, we have a lot of senior church members who might not see as well as they used to or react as fast as they did when they were younger.

“It’s real concern for those traveling south to north on MLK who are trying to turn left into our parking lot, as we only have the one entrance and exit,” he continued. “In fact, it is actually a published procedure and we have it printed and ask everyone to just turn right when they leave church. The last thing we want is for someone to have a wreck, when they are leaving church and trying to turn left across one lane of traffic and watch for those traveling 70 miles per hour coming from the other way too.”

According to Sarah Dupre, public information officer for the Beaumont District of the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT), an official speed limit change has not been requested as of Friday, June 24.

“Whenever someone requests a speed limit change, TxDOT will do a speed study and look at those areas,” Dupre explained. “We actually have a person who goes out to that area with a radar gun and records the data for this study and that will determine what people are actually driving.”

Dupre said the speed study must be done on “an average day” which is not impacted by weather and traffic is free-flowing, so they data will not be skewed and best represent a normal driving day on the road in question.

Information from any potential survey is recorded and brought back for study. TxDOT then follows what is referred to as the “85th percentile” for determining speed limits and information utilized from a speed study.

The “85th percentile” is the speed that 85 percent of vehicles do not exceed, according to …. It translates into 15 percent of the vehicles are traveling faster than this speed, and 85 percent go at or below this speed.

If the speed limit is determined to be too high for the road and conditions, then a lower speed limit can be selected which still includes the majority of drivers.

“It’s not necessarily about the number of people who are speeding either,” she added. “If the majority of the people are going 60 miles per hour and only a few are driving 70 miles per hour, then that can create a speed differential. We could actually lower the speed limit on a roadway based on that kind of data.”