Traffic has long been an issue for parents with children going to the Powell Butte School. A recent study took a look at the problem as part of a master plan for the school's future.
>The average daily traffic count on Hwy 126 in front of Powell Butte School ranges from 7,400 to 7,800 vehicles per day and there might not be much that can be done about it
Earlier this week, the Crook County School District was presented with the findings of the indepth study which detailed safe routes for students to take to the school property. The study was conducted by a firm hired by the board last year.
The report is part of a master planning effort to determine whether the district should expand the existing Powell Butte school or move it to a new location on Reif Road. As part of the process leading up the the final decision, the Oregon Department of Transportation required that the school conduct a Safe Route to School Plan.
David Knitowski, a traffic engineer from David Evans and Associates, Inc., was hired by the district to conduct the study. The results culminate in a bulky report detailing the process of evaluation, identifying areas for improvement, designating safe routes to school and finally, making recommendations.
The first step in setting up a school trip safety process was the forming of a School Traffic Safety Committee (STSC) made up of representatives from OSP, the sheriff's office, ODOT, and members of the local school committee.
"The second step was identifying deficiencies - that was my role as an engineer," Knitowski explained. "We did traffic counts, pedestrian counts, and measured what is called sight distance. That's when you're pulling out on the highway, how far can you see in either direction. I did an inventory of roadway shoulders and sidewalks on school property and the surrounding roads.
The state police helped me out by doing a speed study. I also conducted was is called a gap study for pedestrians which determines if there are sufficient gaps in traffic to cross the road."
The guidelines recommend one sufficient gap between passing vehicles per minute per student, which was a recognized deficiency in the report. The other deficiency highlighted in the report is the rate of speed of passing motorists. Traffic was not obeying the 45 mph speed limit and the 20 mph speed limit when children are present. The reported average speed was 48 miles per hour when an unmarked police car was along the roadway. In contrast, when a marked car was present, motorist tended to slow down to the posted speed.
Some interesting side notes to the study include the average daily traffic on Hwy 126 in front of Powell Butte School ranges from 7,400 to 7,800 vehicles per day with 583 vehicles per hour during peak morning hours.
In contrast the Reif Road between Riggs Road and Weigan Road is only 500 vehicles per day, but motorists tend to drive faster along that stretch.
The study also reveals that only five students walk and two students bicycle to the Powell Butte school. Virtually all of the other students are either bussed or take transportation to and from school by some other means.
The bottom line of the study determines that traffic improvements at both the Reif location and the existing location will cost the school district close to the same figure.
"Cost for improvements were about the same at either site, at about the $50-60,000 range," Knitowski said, adding that his original recommendation was to have a crossing guard for the existing site at the highway. He recommended that state police train the crossing guard, but it was determined that state police were not willing to do so. He also discovered that the school district has a policy which doesn' allow for crossing guards in the county.
In the final solution Knitowski and the STSC committee recommended that measures to better enforce the speed limit during peak hours, one hour in the morning and one hour in the afternoon be taken for the 170 days that school is in session. The cost for this type of enforcement would fall to the school district and range at about $15,000 per year.
"School districts may be eligible for a grant for that enforcement," he said. "I believe that Superintendent Gary Peterson said that it would be easier to fund a police officer than a crossing guard. Overall, my recommendations for traffic related improvements for either site is about the same. So I don' think that traffic improvements will be the deciding factor when you choose which site to go ahead with."
The Powell Butte school committee will be making further recommendations about the Powell Butte School at next month' school board meeting.