U.S. 56 intersection draws school board discussion
Despite a relatively short meeting Monday night, Baldwin School Board members voiced their opinions on recent discussions about the intersection of U.S. Highway 56 and Lawrence Street.
It was the joint meeting between the Douglas County Commission and Baldwin City Council on June 10 that had School Board President Alison Bauer upset. During the meeting she expressed her concern about how the school board was perceived as not caring for its students.
“When I saw the reports of the meeting, I was sorry that school district representatives weren’t in attendance at the meeting,” Bauer said. “We weren’t aware of the meeting. We could have let people know that student safety is very important to us. The safety of the students of USD 348 is a paramount concern of the school board. There isn’t anything more important than our students’ safety.”
The intersection in question is on the west edge of town, just past Baldwin Elementary School Intermediate Center. The highway intersects County Road 11, which is also Lawrence Street in Baldwin City. The intersection is just west of the crest of the hill, which creates line of sight problems for vehicles traveling westbound on the U.S. 56.
In November, the school district patrons passed a bond issue, which included a new Baldwin Elementary School Primary Center. The school will be built to the south of the intersection, along Lawrence Street. Increased traffic to the new school has caused concern among city officials. The Kansas Department of Transportation has also looked at the intersection.
“The traffic study that was requested by the city planning commission basically said that intersection would not be affected to the point where they felt it would not adversely be affected by traffic from the school,” Supt. Paul Dorathy said. “The conditions that exist there are pre-existing conditions. KDOT said they would not make the school district fix that intersection, but they did talk about extending the 45 mph speed limit over the hill.”
The district did a traffic study to look at that intersection, along with others that would be affected by the new BESPC. The traffic study indicated the U.S. 56 intersection is adequate.
Another concern is the speed limit on U.S. 56. As of now, it increases from 45 to 60 mph right before BESIC. There is a school zone along BESIC that slows traffic to 45 mph before and after school. However, board members expressed concerns about the speed along that stretch of road.
“It’s almost a matter of personal opinion on whether that intersection is safe or not,” Board Member Scott Lauridsen said. “We’ve had KDOT and the traffic study tell us it is safe. For me, it’s uncomfortable to have the speed limit be 60 mph there, whether we have this new school there or not. In my mind, the fact that a school is going in there is irrelevant. It’s either safe or it’s not.
“I can’t go make them make a change, because I personally think it’s not safe,” he said. “I can’t spend district money to put in a left-turn lane if it’s not based on any professional’s opinion.”
On Monday night, Bauer said she believed that KDOT will be extending the school zone or decreasing the speed limit to 45 mph to the intersection over the hill. She wasn’t certain, but she thought one of those changes might happen.
“I believe that was the recommendation from KDOT,” Bauer said. “If we build the school there, they will extend the 45 mph speed limit over the hill. It seems odd that this is a safety concern and KDOT would raise the speed limit to 60 mph there. The school board 100 percent supports the lowering of the speed limit.”
While no final decision has been made on the intersection on U.S. 56, the school board members expressed their concerns about the speed limit.
“I’d be more comfortable if we extended that school zone on out and made it 45 mph up to that intersection,” Lauridsen said. “Then, in my mind, it becomes safer. That’s just my personal opinion.”