Fatal Valley intersection to become a school zone

State says it will create slower speeds at deadly crossing by spring

Posted: Thursday, November 06, 2003

The state said late Wednesday it will install a school zone by spring at the intersection of Mendenhall Loop Road, Stephen Richards Memorial Drive and Haloff Way.

The intersection, one block from Glacier Valley Elementary School, has been the site of two fatal traffic accidents since this summer.

Ten-year-old Skyler Lee Kim was struck by a pickup truck Oct. 20 as he was crossing Mendenhall Loop Road on the way to Glacier Valley school. The driver was not charged in the incident.

Paulette Alden, 49, was killed on July 22 when her car collided with a dump truck. No one was charged.

Since Skyler's death, 513 residents have signed a petition asking the state to make the intersection a school zone, said Arlene Crumrine, the boy's grandmother and one of the petition's organizers.

Only a fifth of Glacier Valley's 340 students take a bus to school, according to a Juneau School District study. It's the lowest percentage of bus riders of the city's elementary schools.

Crumrine was pleased to hear the Department of Transportation's decision Wednesday. A school zone will have reduced speed limits in an area marked by signs and flashing lights.

"It's what we wanted. I think there could be more. But if DOT is willing to make this a school zone, thank you," she said.

Chris Morrow, Southeast maintenance and operations director for DOT, told the Empire in late October he didn't recommend making the intersection a school zone because it would create traffic problems elsewhere. And it's unusual to have a school zone on a road that isn't next to a school, he said.

But in an e-mail to the media late Wednesday, Morrow said: " ... in response to public concerns, we conducted more detailed analysis that convinces us the reduction in traffic efficiency will be less than earlier thought and the improvements in pedestrian safety will more than compensate for the minor inconvenience that motorists will experience."

The state also plans to encourage higher use of the pedestrian overcrossing on Mendenhall Loop Road just south of the intersection. It will install lighting at the upper landings at each end of the overcrossing.

"We had received reports that the overcrossing was dark and frightening to children," Morrow said.

The state already has increased the pedestrian crossing time at the intersection, which the Glacier Valley Site Council had asked for, Morrow said.

Douglas Cooper, whose 9-year-old son crosses Mendenhall Loop Road to get to and from Glacier Valley school, said a school zone was the best solution for now.

"Right now, I think a school zone is a huge step," Cooper said. "Cars come down there like crazy."

But in the long run he'd like to see the state make the overpass easily accessible to bike riders, such as by installing ramps. Someday, Mendenhall Loop Road may have four lanes and it won't be practical to slow down so much traffic for a school zone, he said.

It will take time to complete the design for the school zone signs and lights, secure the funding, get the work under contract, order the materials and get it built, Morrow said.

"With winter approaching, we think the work will likely be completed this spring," he said.

DOT will continue to analyze the intersection's overall operations and safety performance to see whether further improvements are warranted, Morrow said.

Morrow said he will talk to the Glacier Valley Site Council at its meeting on Nov. 12.

• Eric Fry can be reached at efry@juneauempire.com.

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