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Speed signs help slow traffic on Columbia Avenue

New dynamic speed signs on Columbia Avenue between South Street and Green River Road have been put in place to help slow down drivers in front of the elementary school and high schools. Photo by Nancy Woodke/Sun Tribune

MORRIS - Although distracted drivers and high speeds haven't caused any serious accidents in front of the elementary school and high school, safety concerns prompted the Morris Police Department to take a proactive approach in the form of dynamic speed signs along the road.

The two signs, sitting on Columbia Avenue between South Street and Green River Road, were purchased with leftover money from a federal Safe Routes to School grant and have, so far, helped slow drivers in the area.

"There are a whole bunch of potential distractions going on in that area, so if there's something we can do to remind people everyday when they turn the corner and start heading up that block, then that's a good thing," said Beauregard.

The signs are the culmination of the first phase of a Safe Routes to School project in the city. The National Center for Safe Routes to School was established in 2006 and assists communities in enabling and encouraging kids to walk or bike to school.

The city received a $17,000 grant from the organization in 2009. The project began with a series of surveys and an engineering study to find out about traffic flow and student routes through town.

As a result of this research, "we discovered that it was in our best interest as a community to slow the traffic down in front of the elementary school and high school," said Beauregard.

"It's sort of a no-brainer," he continued, "but it's also difficult for us as law enforcement to be there 24 hours a day or be there every single morning. We simply don't have the personnel to do that."

However, there was money leftover in the grant after the studies were completed that could be used to help address the speed issue. After discussions with the Safe Routes to School program, the city was able to resubmit some paperwork to use the extra money to pay for the signs.

In total, the two new signs cost $10,190 - about $9,000 from the federal grant and about $1,190 from the city as a local match. The Morris City Council approved the purchase at a meeting in September.

On the first day the signs were posted, they registered 63 vehicles traveling 35 mph or faster, some as fast as 40 mph. On the second day, there were only 43 vehicles speeding, and by the third day there were only seven.

During that same period, 2,971 vehicles were clocked going between 16 and 21 mph.

"We've been very pleased with how they're working out," said Beauregard. "Traffic has slowed down tremendously in that area, which was obviously the objective."

Beauregard added that the department also plans to continue monitoring the area with officers to help reinforce the slower speeds.

The dynamic speed signs can be controlled from Beauregard's computer and can generate reports each day. Each sign also has a camera which can take pictures of cars as they drive by, although the intent with the photos isn't to send tickets, Beauregard said.

In the future, the department will continue to work on expanding the routes students can use to get to school from other places in the city. This could include anything from designated bike routes from other locations to a way to help students safely get to school from the west side of town.

However, funding for these sorts of programs have dropped, so the process will be slow, said Beauregard.