Safety concerns prompt calls for signal at 15th and Long

Sean C. Morgan

Of The New Era

This week the city of Sweet Home’s Traffic Safety Committee will begin considering a request for a stoplight or some other measure to help mitigate concerns about pedestrian and vehicle traffic at the intersection of 15th and Long streets.

The committee’s regular meeting was scheduled for Tuesday night.

The intersection includes one of the entrances to the high school, which is used by school bus traffic.

The District 55 School Board agreed by consensus at its regular meeting to ask the city to look into the matter after board member John Fassler raised concerns.

Fassler said he had been approached by a few people asking about problems at the intersection before school, during lunch and after school. They suggested installing some kind of pedestrian crossing light or something to regulate crossing the street there.

“I’d like to see us approach the city,” Fassler said. “I see a big need for it. I don’t go down there during the day. I’ll go to Main Street, even when I go to the office (CenturyTel on 10th avenue between Long and Main streets).”

The main concern is the pedestrian traffic, he said.

“It is a bad situation at lunch and after school,” said Ken Roberts, a board member.

And before school, drivers headed east have the sun in their eyes, making seeing pedestrians difficult, board member Jason Redick said. “Some of the kids don’t care how close you are to the crosswalk. They’ll jump into the crosswalk.”

He doesn’t know if traffic lights will help the situation though, he said. He has seen the same behavior on Main Street, one block north.

During the construction of the high school, the city did not want to add any traffic control to the intersection, Supt. Larry Horton said, but it may be time to go back to the traffic committee and ask.

High School Assistant Principal Dave Goetz said there have been two vehicle accidents that he knows about at that location. Goetz is in his third year at Sweet Home High School.

“I don’t think it’d hurt to ask the question,” he said.

Bus drivers have, at times, done “creative traffic control,” Transportation Supt. L.D. Ellison said. At times, they have turned their lights on to control the traffic, but he has stopped that practice.

Horton said he would contact the city and return with a report in October.

“Every year, the first few weeks to a month, we go through this conversation,” city Senior Engineering Technician Joe Graybill said. If the intersection meets all of the warrants, the criteria, for traffic signals, there is still a funding issue. Each leg of the intersection costs $75,000, and the total cost for the four-way intersection would be $300,000.

The intersection may have “a proximity issue to the existing signal on Main and 15th,” he said. Oregon Department of Transportation sets standards for the proximity of signals, but it could be approved if it can be worked into the signal pattern.

The Traffic Safety Committee, which meets every two months, usually asks for research on requests, Graybill said. It then may make a recommendation to the City Council to take action, such as installing traffic signals.

The city has limited sources of funding for projects like this, Graybill said. The gas tax would be one source, but the annual revenue from that is less than the total cost of the signals and is normally used for city pavement projects.

“We can take a look at it to see if there’s some enforcement action that can be taken,” Police Chief Bob Burford said. He will turn to School Resource Officer John Trahan to observe the intersection and identify what action police might take.

Pedestrians have right-of-way at crosswalks, but “a pedestrian still has to use due caution,” Burford said. He cannot just step out in front of traffic and force drivers to slam on their brakes.

He expected to get a better handle on what is happening at that intersection early this week and then present information to the Traffic Safety Committee, he said. His gut reaction is that a traffic light would be like the proverbial killing a fly with a bazooka, he said.