Schools, county will work together on signs

School and county officials are working together to correct signage problems and deficiencies regarding school zones and speed limits on county roads near local schools.

County Commissioners' President Tom Wall and County Highway Superintendent Troy Hostetler presented information on the issue to the Huntington County Community School Corporation's Board of Trustees during their regular meeting Monday night, March 9.

"This was started last August with a commissioner who was here last year to bring a lot of the roadways up to compliance with the signage that is up and around some of the schools," Wall told the trustees. "On Waterworks Road I believe someone has taped up some of the signs. It's just not very clear on Waterworks Road where the signs are supposed to be."

Information regarding the signage was put together by the Schneider Corporation, which the commissioners hired to do a study on speed limits and signage. Each trustee was given a copy of the in-depth manual.

Commissioners were recently asked to vote on establishing or fine-tuning a county ordinance to reflect the results of the study, but Wall said he and his counterparts - Commissioners Kathy Branham and Jerry Helvie - did not want to take action without consulting the school corporation.
"I said wait a minute - if it involves the schools, I think we ought to bring it to the schools and let you guys take a look at this, take some time to go through this," Wall said.

He encouraged school officials to get in touch with either the commissioners or Hostetler regarding any questions or complaints they have about the study.

Information was gathered earlier this year, Hostetler said, adding the study was conducted to make sure school zones are safe for the county's young people.

"The school zone speed study is to evaluate existing problems with speeding, recommend changes in policy, ordinance and signage to encourage safe driving practices, and provide the necessary data and documentation to support enforcement efforts," Hostetler read from one of the pages of the study. "The data was collected in January and February of 2009 on days when school was in session."
"Pneumatic tubes" were placed on roads near schools to check speeds of traffic that would be traveling at normal speeds, he added.

"According to Indiana law, a local jurisdiction such as Huntington County can declare a speed limit on local roadways," Hostetler continued. "A traffic study is required to determine the proper maximum speed."

While conducting the study, Schneider Corp. also took an inventory of what signs were already in place, he added.
Speed limits must be established by ordinance and, for school zones, they must include the locations where the signs should be, the regular posted school zone speed limits and miles per hour, and also when that speed limit is in effect, Hostetler continued.

"School zone speed limits are posted by using a series of signs," he said. "The first would be a warning sign, the second is the speed limit assembly which shows when children are present, what the speed limit is and the last would be where the school zone is."

The study conducted by the Schneider Corp. only involved county roads near schools, Hostetler noted.

"We didn't do the city of Huntington, Roanoke, Andrews - anything in the small towns," he said. "We just did the ones that dealt with the county."

While conducting the study, Schneider Corp. found that 85 percent of people driving near Northwest Elementary School obeyed the posted 35 miles per hour (mph) school zone speed limit while only 15 percent traveled faster than that speed. The study also discovered that some people driving on roads near Lancaster Elementary were traveling as fast at 65 mph.

"In conclusion they stated that with vehicle speeds as high as 65 miles per hour on roadways adjacent to the schools, the concerns regarding student safety have been justified by the speed data results," Hostetler related. "Based on those results, recommendations include lower school zone speed limits and appropriate signage to inform drivers."

Wall expressed a desire from the commissioners that the process to update the school zone speed limits and signage move forward quickly - within 45 days or so, he said.

School Board President Kevin Patrick asked Superintendent Tracey Shafer if this was an issue that the schools' safety team could review and provide input on.

"Oh sure. We could have our school safety committee review it and see if they have any ideas and bring any requests back to the board, then see if the board has any questions on it," Shafer said. "We can probably have it back within two to three weeks' time."

After the school board lets the commissioners know of its findings and decisions, the commissioners will put the issue to a vote to establish an ordinance.