Following a fatal accident in September at the entrance to Ridgewood Middle School, the Missouri Department of Transportation has developed a five-point safety improvement plan that includes a U-turn lane on Hwy. 141 at Ridgewood Middle School Road.
The plan will be discussed at a public meeting at 6:30 p.m. Monday, Nov. 25, at Ridgewood Middle School, west of Arnold.
Judy Wagner, MoDOT area engineer, said her agency had received a petition asking for a traffic signal at school’s entrance. However, she said, a stoplight at that location wouldn’t solve the problem.
Instead, MoDOT officials propose a more extensive plan aimed at improving safety on Hwy. 141 from Hwy. 21 to Astra Way, including the entrance to the school. On average, 30,000 vehicles travel that stretch of Hwy. 141 daily.
“Given the geometrics on 141, we couldn’t just throw a traffic signal out there and solve the problem. We need a systemic approach,” Wagner said.
A signal at the school isn’t recommended because 141 curves on either side of Ridgewood School Road.
Instead, state traffic experts are proposing a five-part solution that would cost an estimated $800,000. At this time, no funding has been identified by either MoDOT or the Fox School District to construct the project. Ridgewood Middle is one of 19 schools in the district.
The plan calls for:
■ Installing a traffic signal at Hwy. 141 and Old Missouri State Road, east of the school.
■ Eliminating the left turn from Ridgewood School Road to northbound 141. Traffic will still be able to turn left into the school from Hwy. 141.
■ Building an offset right-turn lane from southbound 141 to the school.
■ Building a U-turn lane on southbound 141 at the new signal at Old Missouri State Road, wide enough to allow school buses to make the U-turn. In addition, rebuild the left turn from northbound 141 at Old Missouri State Road to avoid U-turning traffic.
■ Eliminating the left turn from the West Outer 21 road to northbound Route 141.
Fatal crash sparks action
Wagner said MoDOT officials have been looking at options for that stretch of 141, but they stepped up their work when Sharon L. Benner, 68, Fenton, died after a Sept. 19 crash at the entrance to Ridgewood Middle School. Branden M. Nehls, 22, Arnold, who was riding a motorcycle, was hurt in the accident.
Benner was leaving Ridgewood Middle School, attempting to turn left onto northbound Hwy. 141, when she pulled into the path of Nehls’ motorcycle, headed south on Hwy. 141, the Missouri State Highway Patrol reported.
The front of the motorcycle struck the car’s driver-side door, the report said.
Benner had been to the school to pick up a niece and nephew following extracurricular activities and was leaving when the accident occurred. The two children were not injured.
Among Ridgewood students who witnessed the crash was Alexis Kerr, 13, of Arnold. She had been at a cheerleading practice away from school and was returning to the campus.
“I was (in) the third car in line,” she said. “It kind of really shocked me and really scared me. This was the first car accident I’d ever seen, and it really hit me like a wrecking ball.”
A few days later, Alexis decided something needed to be done to improve traffic safety at her school.
“I was concerned about the safety of others,” she said. “I didn’t want anything like that to happen again.”
Alexis sent an email to Arnold city officials explaining what she had witnessed and her desire for changes to be made.
“I was thinking the mayor would do something,” she said. “They emailed me back and explained that the road doesn’t belong to Arnold, but that they would forward my message to MoDOT.”
Later, she got an email from MoDOT officials thanking her for her email and outlining the plan for improved traffic safety.
“I actually think it is a great improvement,” Alexis said. “It will help the school a lot more.”
She will attend the Nov. 25 public meeting.
“I am definitely going,” she said. “I think most people should take it in a positive way. Most people are not caring about themselves. They are caring about others. I think we should take all this work in a positive direction.”
Traffic signal; U-turn lane
Wagner said a traffic signal at Hwy. 141 and Old Missouri State Road is a better idea because traffic counts are higher there and 141 is straighter than at Ridgewood School Road.
“Initially people wanted that quick solution (a signal at the school entrance),” Wagner said. “But now I think people understand why a signal at the school isn’t the best solution.”
Wagner said some people have questioned the use of a U-turn lane as part of the plan.
She said U-turn lanes are proven to work. A similar U-turn lane was installed in 2008 at Hwy. M at Old Lemay Ferry Road. Since it opened, there have been no fatalities and a significant reduction in the number of crashes at that location.
Wagner said the Hwy. 141 U-turn lane would take advantage of the proposed traffic signal at Old Missouri State Road.
More details about the plan and a map can be found online by clicking here http://www.modot.org/stlouis/major_projects/Route141SafetyImprovementsatRidgewoodSchool.htm.