News

School zone coming to Heller Road

High school student Kathy Magnuson often crosses Heller Road and knows how dangerous it can be. - Jessie Stensland
High school student Kathy Magnuson often crosses Heller Road and knows how dangerous it can be.
— image credit: Jessie Stensland

A handful of school children dodged through heavy traffic on NW Heller Road in front of Hillcrest Elementary School last Thursday afternoon. There’s no crosswalk and cars whiz by at the 40 mph speed limit and probably more.

But this potentially dangerous situation will change in the next couple of weeks. The city of Oak Harbor is creating a school zone along Heller Road in front of the elementary school.

Eric Johnston, a civil engineer with the city, said a crosswalk will be placed at the intersection of Heller Road and NW Second Avenue. The speed limit will be reduced from 40 mph to 20 mph on school days, from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m.

While some drivers may dislike slowing down to 20 mph, kids who have to cross or walk along the busy road will undoubtedly be safer and more comfortable. Kathy Magnuson, a tenth grader at the high school, regularly navigates across the road. She thinks a school zone is a pretty good idea.

“Not too many kids cross there,” she said, “but enough do that they need a crosswalk.”

Johnston said city staff recommended installing the school zone on the road, which is between the high school and the elementary school, after putting together new guidelines for designating the safety zones. He said a host of city and school officials, as well as citizens, have expressed concern over the inconsistencies of school zones in Oak Harbor.

To rectify this, the engineering department developed guidelines based on federal and state law, as well as engineering research. The guidelines call for uniformity in school-zone traffic-control devices, school zones on all public streets adjacent to public schools, and crosswalks within the zones. The guidelines say that special traffic-control devices, such as flashing beacons, should be limited to highly unusual situations.

The Oak Harbor City Council approved the new guidelines as well as the establishment of the Heller Road school zone at a meeting two weeks ago.

The next step, Johnston said, is to look at all the schools and current school zones to see if they are consistent with the new guidelines. The council, how ever, turned down a request from the engineering department to hire a consultant to do a comprehensive evaluation of all school zones at a cost of $15,000. The city’s current acting city engineer, Gary Bourne, is a consultant position.

Mayor Patty Cohen recommended against spending money on another consulting contract.

“I’m very concerned about how we are using consultants in the engineering department,” she said. “It’s very expensive. ... There are other items of a higher priority right now and we can’t afford to do everything.”

Councilman Bob Morrison agreed. He pointed out that the engineering department “has the talent” to do the work without having to spend $15,000 in un-budgeted funds.

City Administrator Thom Myers said the engineering staff can work on school zones whenever they have time, but he warned that it will be “a very long evaluation process.”

The department will report back to the council at the end of the year about how the process is going.

You can reach News-Times reporter Jessie Stensland at jstensland@whidbeynewstimes.com or call 675-6611.

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