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Citizens ask for more signage and lighting to slow highway traffic near Powell Butte Community Charter School

HOLLY SCHOLZ - Powell Butte Community Charter School educational assistant Barbara Burns helps students cross Highway 126 in front of the school. Burns said she stops traffic 10 or 12 times each morning between 7:15 and 7:45 a.m. to allow students to cross from the Powell Butte Country Store to the school. Each afternoon from 2:30 to 2:40, a crossing guard helps children cross the street.

Some concerned citizens approached the Crook County Court Wednesday seeking help to improve the safety of the intersection near Powell Butte Community Charter School.

Kathy Eby and Leona Johnson presented what Eby termed "a very, very serious safety problem" where Highway 126 passes the school. She stressed that the highway is unsafe for students to cross without changes made to slow down traffic.

"We all know that we can do something about it and if we don't, God forbid, one of our families (could have) a horrible accident and lose a child, and we would have to live with that the rest of our lives," she said. "I don't want to have to do that."

Eby said she and Johnson have met with several county officials, including Road Master Bob O'Neal, Planning Director Ann Beier as well as Joel McCarroll, Oregon Department of Transportation's traffic manager for the Central Oregon region.

"We are all well aware that this is an ODOT road, but we are here to get everybody's help, pulling together as a team to get this done," she said.

Eby noted that a flashing light used to hang over the highway near the school, but at some point during a recent church renovation, the light was removed for reasons unknown. She would like to see the light reinstalled along with the addition to some solar-powered flashing speed signs, similar to what drivers see near the Tom McCall intersection with the highway.

"At this point, the school has taken it upon itself to pay one of their employees to be out there with a stop sign in the mornings and afternoons to stop traffic so children can walk across that crosswalk," Eby said. "We are putting their life in jeopardy, and they shouldn't have to do that."

County Judge Seth Crawford agreed that something should be done to improve the safety of the crosswalk and hopes to find a solution.

"We could also look at what they did at the high school," he suggested, pointing out that the City of Prineville installed push-button, flashing signs to alert motorists when students are trying to cross Lynn Boulevard. "Maybe that would be even better. When you have a light going all the time, it starts to fade into the background, but if it's something that lights up (part of the time) it could really catch their attention."

Crawford added that he and Sheriff John Gautney had discussed requesting ticket cameras from Oregon State Police that could be installed in the area to encourage drivers to obey school zone speed laws. He said that motorists tend to drive too fast through the zone, putting the safety of children at risk.

"That is not OK," he said. "It's unfortunate that you have a school on a highway, but there is a school on a highway, so you need to respect those speed limits."

Beier later pointed out that the county planning department is in the process of revising the county transportation system plan, which was last updated in 2005.

"It has a series of recommendations," she said. "The safety projects, many of them revolve around the corridor from the Powell Butte store and school to Powell Butte Highway. One of the top priority projects identified by the broader community is better signage and better lighting at that (school) intersection."

The first hearing on the transportation system plan, Beier said, takes place next week, and the county court is expected to review and vote on it during a meeting in October.

Meanwhile, Crawford expressed interest in holding a meeting with Eby and Johnson as well as O'Neal, an ODOT representative and County Counsel Jeff Wilson to help determine what options are available to make the area safer.

"Let's find a solution," he said.

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