ODOT will add two flashing amber lights to school zone signs, researching other solutions

HOLLY SCHOLZ - Pedestrians begin to cross Highway 126 from the Powell Butte Country Store parking lot to Powell Butte Community Charter School before school earlier this week.

Several agencies are working together to make the intersection of Williams Road and Highway 126 safer for students of Powell Butte Community Charter School, and four considerations are on the table.

"We've met with the school a couple of times, first to hear and then offer up some suggestions and then see what we can do," said Oregon Department of Transportation Spokesman Peter Murphy. "We can do some things sooner than others."

Concerned citizens met with the local road master and planning director as well as ODOT before approaching the Crook County Court last September, seeking help to improve the safety of the intersection near Powell Butte Community Charter School. They requested that several departments pull together as a team to address the safety issue.

Joining ODOT in discussions are the Crook County School District, Powell Butte Community Charter School, Powell Butte Country Store, Powell Butte Christian School, and Crook County Community Development. They last met March 2.

According to ODOT's automatic traffic recorders, traffic volumes have increased steadily in recent years, increasing the demand on the highway. Murphy reported 8,622 vehicles at that intersection in August of 2014 and 10,643 vehicles last August — an increase of more than 2,000 vehicles in three years.

In the near future, ODOT will add a second blinking amber light to each of the two 20 miles per hour school zone speed limit signs on Highway 126. The lights will flash during school drop-off and pick-up times.

"We'll have double the number of lights to alert motorists that they're entering into a school zone," Murphy said.

Although he said it takes a while for ODOT to investigate speeds, they are going to look at what could be done with the speed limit in that area. ODOT is often constrained in what it can do because Highway 126 is a state highway.

"Some of those recommendations from us would have to go to the state highway engineer, so there's a process that we are beginning to check into what we could do possibly with the speed limit there, but that's a longer-term solution," Murphy said.

In addition, ODOT officials have asked the school and the Powell Butte Community Church, who share a driveway, to talk with one another about internal circulation.

"Is there a way that they can help us with this by looking into what their internal circulation looks like?" Murphy said.

Another topic under discussion on ODOT's side is whether they can actually permit another driveway at the school.

Powell Butte Community Charter School Administrator Jenn Berry-O'Shea said the school is working with the Crook County School District to review circulations patterns for traffic in and out of the school, as well as additional access/egress options.  

Earlier in the school year, a school employee served as crossing guard at the crosswalk before and after school each day, all the while discouraging families from dropping their students off in the Country Store parking lot across the street.

But more recently, there has been no crossing guard at the crosswalk before and after school.

"PBCCS does not believe that the crosswalk across Highway 126 is safe for students or staff use," Berry-O'Shea said, adding that her biggest concern is the safety of students, families and staff coming and going from the school.

Crook County Judge Seth Crawford agrees.

"It's really important to Crook County that we ensure the safety of the kids and find solutions to the traffic problems up there," he said.

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