Changes are coming to streets around Southridge High School as city, school and community leaders look to prevent traffic snarls and unpleasant encounters between drivers and pedestrians.
City officials have signed off on plans to install a crosswalk on 36th Avenue, directly connecting the high school campus and a seminary of the Church of Jesus Christ and Latter-day Saints, said Cary Roe, Kennewick’s public works director.
Students have been injured in four incidents since 2000 at that spot as they jaywalked between the school and seminary.
A crosswalk on Southridge Boulevard connecting the school to the new Trios Southridge hospital — where the cafeteria has become popular with some students and teachers — is also under consideration. The idea is on hold as the district looks to reduce bus traffic on the road by building a new bus loop at the back of the high school with access from Hildebrand Boulevard.
Traffic has long been congested around the school, particularly right before or after the school day. However, more residential and commercial properties are under development in the area. Officials say it’s time to make adjustments to keep people safe.
“I think we’re at a point now where people are more acutely aware,” said Southridge High Principal Steve Biehn.
The seminary was built several years after Southridge High opened, Roe said. There were conversations at the time about putting in a crosswalk to give students more direct access between the school and seminary. Church officials told the city that the crosswalk with Southridge Boulevard about 150 feet away would be sufficient.
About 150 Southridge students attend classes at the seminary and most use the crosswalk, Roe said. But some don’t and a few have been struck by cars, one earlier this year.
No specific timeline has been announced for the new crosswalk. The project will cost an estimated $12,000. Church and community leaders are organizing a campaign to collect financial and in-kind donations.
“It will get done, one way or another,” said David Chan, a Kennewick chiropractor whose granddaughter was injured in the most recent incident on 36th Avenue. “This safety issue is not just mine, it’s every student’s at Southridge.”
Chan and others connected to the seminary have also pushed for the new crosswalk connecting the school and hospital, motivated by the increasing number of students crossing the road during lunch periods. School staff, including Biehn, periodically monitors the students to make sure they use established crosswalks farther down the street, but some students do jaywalk.
Removing bus traffic from Southridge Boulevard could help alleviate issues, said Superintendent Dave Bond, as they currently compete with parents dropping off students. Putting a new bus loop behind the school would completely separate buses from other vehicles heading to the school.
“For us, the linchpin is the bus loop,” Bond said.
However, the district’s plan partly hinges on building part of a driveway on privately owned property. There have been ongoing discussions with the property owner and the project could probably continue without that access.
Biehn is a proponent of limiting traffic leaving the school’s front loop to right turns only. That would force people wanting to head north on Southridge Boulevard to use the roundabout Ridgeline Drive to get in the correct lane.
While past encounters between pedestrians and vehicles are at least partially motivating the improvements, officials said they expect to go back and revisit infrastructure over the years because circumstances change.
“You have to be willing to adapt,” Roe said. “I wouldn’t have guessed the (hospital’s) cafeteria food would be so good that people would cross the street for it.”