Options discussed for Safe Routes to School
A crossing guard program and relocation of a flashing light may be immediate steps for improving student safety. The school district’s Safe Routes to School task force will meet by the first week in June to start laying an action plan for safety improvements.
A recent meeting between borough and state Department of Transportation officials has clarified some options under consideration, said Debra Schnabel, task force coordinator for the Haines Borough.
Schnabel and borough facilities manager Brad Maynard met last week with Carolyn Morehouse, traffic and safety engineer for DOT, and Steven Soenksen, DOT’s Safe Routes to School Coordinator.
The Safe Routes to School program can provide funding to build infrastructure improvements like trails or sidewalks to improve safety.
Schnabel said as the result of the meeting, she thinks a trail may be preferable to a sidewalk along Haines Highway. "I think that’s an intriguing direction to go. If we build paths in a two-mile radius around the school, everybody would be using them."
Besides being safer than a roadside walk, such a trail could tie in with improved pedestrian routes identified as a priority by the downtown planning project, she said. It also may be cheaper than building a sidewalk along the highway, she said. "Maintenance of sidewalks has always been an issue."
Also, the federal government is putting relatively more emphasis on bike paths and trails than on concrete and roads. "The timing is good for us to continue to pursue these ideas because more funding will be available for them," Schnabel said.
Student safety has been a concern since the new school opened facing Old Haines Highway two years ago. Former primary and elementary schools fronted Main Street, which has a 25 mph speed limit. Flashing "school zone" lights and a crossing guard program also was in place there.
Old Haines Highway has a speed limit of 35 mph, and the state has expressed resistance to lowering it. The borough also expressed frustration with the time it took for the state to approve a crosswalk at Third Avenue. Main Street and Old Haines Highway belong to the state.
On Old Haines Highway, road signs approaching the school from both directions tell motorists to slow to 20 mph when children are present. State officials said the flashing lights on Main Street could be moved there.
Schnabel said it may be more expedient for the school to re-establish its crossing guard program on the street than to haggle with the state over more crosswalks.
The upcoming task force committee meeting is aimed at identifying improvement goals and developing a plan.
Safe Routes to School construction money may be sought this year. Once the plan is developed, other sources of funding may include transportation, economic development or tribal funds for non-motorized access, Schnabel said.
The Safe Routes program does not fund maintenance.