by Mike Knaak
A St. Joseph woman is worried about heavy traffic and the potential for crashes on College Avenue in front of Kennedy Community School as parents rush to drop off their children every morning.
Rhonda Dahlgren has first-hand knowledge of the situation. She was involved in a collison on April 5 at the intersection of College Avenue, also known as CR 121, and Jade Road.
No one was injured, but the collision prompted Dahlgren to speak out.
“This ridiculous intersection is going to get somebody killed,” she said.
Traffic going in and out of Jade Road backs up as the school day begins and parents and buses enter and depart Jade Road. After dropping students, most drivers want to turn left, to head back north on College Avenue while other vehicles are coming south.
That’s what happened to Dahlgren, who lives on Iverson Road less than a mile north of the school. She was driving south on her way to an appointment. A left-turning truck pulled out in front of her from Jade Road. She avoided it but she collided with another car, also turning left.
“I was practically stopped because I was dodging the truck,” Dahlgren said.
Traffic congestion increased a few years ago when the school changed from staggered start times to all students arriving at the same time. The school’s approximately 875 students are expected to arrive between 7:05 and 7:20 a.m.
Aware of the problem, school leaders and St. Joseph police posted a video on the school’s website last summer to show parents how to safely and efficiently drop off their children.
“Part of what makes it challenging for us is that we have lot of families who open enroll and don’t qualify for transportation,” Principal Laurie Putnam said. “Lots of families have to drop off their students.”
St. Joseph Police Chief Joel Klein has several suggestions for parents. Drivers should travel to the end of the drop-off loop in front of the school, make sure their children are packed up and ready to quickly hop out of the vehicle and parents should not park in the loop and walk the child into the building.
Klein urged all drivers to take it slow if they approach the intersection and see heavy traffic.
“This is a community thing and people have to be respectful of each other,” Klein said.
There are no quick fixes but Dahlgren and Klein both offer ideas to reduce the chances of a collision.
Dahlgren suggests a stoplight at the intersection. Before and after school, it would control turns but the rest of the day it would flash yellow on College Avenue.
Klein said installing a roundabout could reduce the chances of an intersection collision.
A reduced-speed zone, marked with a flashing light during drop-off and pick-up times, would also improve safety, Dahlgren suggested. She is not in favor of a roundabout.
As southbound drivers approach Jade Road from the north, the speed limit increases from 40 mph to 55 mph.
“What concerns me the most is people going south who are not turning into Jade Road meeting drivers coming from the south that are making a left turn,” Putnam said.
While Klein’s officers patrol College Avenue/CR121 inside the city limits, the county has jurisdiction over the road. So any changes, such as a speed-limit change, a traffic signal or roundabout, would have to be approved by the county.
Dahlgren said she’s considering starting a petition to urge Stearns County to take action.
Putnam said school district, city and county officials met in March to talk about solutions. As a first step, the county is going to do a traffic study, she said.