In a Dec. 10 meeting with school officials and parents, Colorado Department of Transportation agreed to install warning signs to try and slow down traffic on U.S. Highway 491 at the Lewis-Arriola Elementary School.
But the plan does not include lowering the 65 mph limit. Speed limits are regulated by state and federal statutes, highway officials said.
CDOT does intend to install traffic signs warning of the County Road U intersection at the school, plus a yellow 55 mph advisory sign for southbound and northbound traffic on the highway.
CDOT might also install an intersection warning system that alerts drivers on U.S. 491 when a vehicle is preparing to enter the highway from Road U. A flashing intersection sign would activate when the system detects a vehicle at Road U.
Another potential option could be radar signs that flash drivers to “Slow Down’ when they exceed the 65 mph limit.
The Montezuma-Cortez School District, Lewis-Arriola school and parents have been lobbying to have the speed limit reduced to 45 mph as part of a school zone.
They have pushed for the safety measure since a northbound vehicle drove off the highway, plowed through a school fence and struck the playground retaining wall Nov. 14.
Students were not on campus that Friday because it was a teacher development day. The vehicle hit in an area where students gather during lunch recess.
But CDOT officials said the intersection does not meet state criteria for a designated school zone, which requires significant pedestrian activity or crosswalk. However, other speed mitigation measures can be taken, and the situation reevaluated.
Lewis-Arriola Principal Jim Parr said that while there is not a lot of foot traffic along the highway, during drop-off and pickup times, the intersection becomes very crowded.
“The traffic really condenses with lines of cars coming in and out and trying to merge into full-speed traffic” on the highway, he said.
A hill to the north of the Road U intersection limits the view of oncoming highway traffic, said parent Nicole Young, creating a nervous and dangerous situation for drivers.
“Knowing there is a reduced speed would definitely be a much safer situation,” she said.
CDOT and the school district have been negotiating on safety measures at the Lewis-Arriola Elementary since the Feb. 14 crash into the playground. Discussions on the matter will continue.
The highway has seen increased traffic since the school was built in 1968, school officials said, and the 65 mph limit on the highway is unnecessarily risky so close to an elementary with frequent outdoor activity.
In November, a 300-foot guardrail was installed between the school and the highway. CDOT and the school district split the $13,000 cost 50-50.
Parr said after the Dec. 10 meeting, parents and staff were “pleased some movement had taken place” regarding the additional traffic signs.
Jamie Haukeness, district safety director of Montezuma-Cortez School District Re-1, added that the district would continue working toward the ultimate goal of a 45 mph school zone at the elementary.