PINETOP-LAKESIDE – If you have ever driven down Porter Mountain Road during drop-off and pickup times at Blue Ridge Elementary and Middle School, you know it can be a slow-go, especially on Fridays when school lets out at noon.
Director of Public Works Matt Patterson revealed key safety issues with the road which are outlined in the Porter Mountain Road School Area Assessment, done last year by Kimley-Horn, Planning and Design Engineering Consultants.
Patterson told the councilors at a recent meeting, “We have a real unsafe road in town both for travelers, school and first responders.”
Patterson related one incident where a wreck occurred past the school at the same time school was letting out and the ambulance could not get to the wreck. He said there was another incident where two semis almost “took out two kids.”
“I sent a letter to the school and to the county saying we have a major issue,” continued Patterson.
Navajo County, who had also received complaints, joined the town and partnered on the assessment written last year. The purpose of the assessment was to examine potential road safety issues on Porter Mountain Road for students walking and biking to school. The analysis identifies potential improvements to the road to reduce congestion during student pickup and drop-off. The assessment offers a range of potential improvements which include both physical improvements and recommended new processes or changes to the existing processes which can help improve the safety of pedestrian, bicycle, and vehicular travel during school drop-off and pick-up times. There is a total of seven projects in this plan, the biggest, and most important, according to Patterson, is the three lanes, with a cost of around “half a million.”
A five year crash study (2014 – 2018) shows there have were 42 accidents – 23 in the intersection, not directly by the school, but 17 were on Porter Mountain Road and two more on side streets.
Problems, fixes & funding
Patterson said that people “blow through” the roundabout. “One side does not have enough curve to it (to slow them down). The plan would address the area to the left of roundabout, adding a curve with “as much a bend as possible, and a gutter to break it.” Another problem is the crosswalk. “We own the roundabout and we never finished the sidewalks. There is no crosswalk for the drivers to warn themselves,” he added.
A primary concern for Patterson is the fix by Peterson Road where the road starts to widen from two to three lanes. He said the concept is to fix it so they have the ability to get first responders through with a 10 foot wide path. He also wants to get kids across the road, making the crossing visible and forcing them to walk toward traffic and then turn to get them back across the road.
With regard to the school bus entrance, they would like to carry the three lanes down to the entrance so the buses can stop and turn in.
“The important thing to know,” stressed Patterson, “is that we do not have the dollars.”
Patterson said they are getting to the point where they need to look for whatever grants might be available and they need to be “forefront of the project.” He said that Navajo County will help so the roundabout and school crossing can be fixed.
Patterson said that he is also going to present the information to the Blue Ridge Unified School District board on Feb. 11. A budget funding override for the district was turned down by voters last fall.
“… (We) will have to look to the community to help with this. It would take me 20 years to save the money to do this, and we have a real safety issue to resolve. My personal opinion, (it should be) our big focus, but we have so many others. It is serious. I am not asking for dollars yet.”
Another Porter Mountain Road project fits right in with the current concerns — the Billy Creek pedestrian bridge project. It became a major concern regarding school children as soon as the Blue Ridge Unified School District began building the Porter Mountain Campus in 2012. The concern was primarily for the safety of students who they knew who would be walking from the Porter Mountain Campus to White Mountain Boulevard over the narrow highway bridge which could barely accommodate two lanes of traffic.
Though the Billy Creek project was also considered a priority for the community, extensive planning for the federally-funded project was required. The contract for the project was awarded to Rawlings Construction by the town on Sept. 19 last year. The pedestrian bridge will be built along the current highway bridge to allow safe passage for all pedestrians and should be done by late this year.