Public Works looking at improvements to school neighborhood

It’s common for vehicles to illegally pass in the vicinity of Wahpeton High School. Members of the Public Works and Safety Committee reviewed two projects including possible improvements to the neighborhood. If grants are received, the projects could be completed in 2020.

True or False: It’s legal for drivers to use a parking lane when passing a vehicle.

The answer is false. If you didn’t know that, you’re not alone. It’s a frequent — and dangerous — occurrence in Wahpeton.

Illegal passing commonly happens in the vicinity of Wahpeton High School. Located on 11th Street North, the school is bookended by two high-traffic intersections at Husky and Westmore avenues.

“Quite honestly, it has to do with misinformation,” Wahpeton Police Chief Scott Thorsteinson said.

During a Tuesday, Nov. 27 Public Works and Safety Committee meeting, Thorsteinson estimated he’s stopped 70 drivers who’ve made illegal passes in recent memory. Only one driver was aware he was doing something wrong. The others said they were unaware of the situation.

“They’ll see other vehicles making that kind of pass, so they think it’s correct,” Thorsteinson explained.

Committee members reviewed two proposed projects that may be completed in 2020 for the high school’s neighborhood. The projects would be in 2020, members learned, because federal grants anticipated to assist in the projects have already been allocated for 2019.

Each project includes changes intended to improve pedestrian and driver safety.

• Project 1 includes, among other components, installing a right turn lane at the intersection of Husky Avenue and 11th Street North, moving the crosswalk at that intersection 15 feet to the south and installing a new 10-foot wide sidewalk where it’s currently narrow south of Wahpeton High School

• Project 2 includes all of the components in Project 1 as well as the addition of a new sidewalk on the right side of 11th Street North; it would connect to an existing sidewalk on Eighth Avenue North

“If the committee approves, we could submit grant applications for both projects,” Public Works Director Dennis Miranowski said Thursday, Nov. 29. “I would recommend doing so. We’ll just need to get letters of support from the school district and parks department.”

Between the committee meeting and Thursday, Miranowski learned there were no limits to applying for a Safe Routes to Schools grant. It is possible to apply for more than one grant, but it must be done by Dec. 31.

Should the grants be received for either or both projects, the cost share would be 80 percent federal, 20 percent local. Cost-sharing does not include preliminary and construction engineering.

If Wahpeton only followed through on Project 1, its total cost including engineering would be $69,127.50. If Wahpeton only followed through on Project 2, its total cost including engineering would be $89,252.50.

“We’re still in the exploratory process, collecting more data and looking at possible alternatives,” explained 3rd Ward Councilman Brett Lambrecht, the committee’s chairman.

Future action is expected during December committee and council meetings.

There currently isn’t a traffic light at the intersection of Westmore Avenue and 11th Street North, nor is there one at the intersection of Husky Avenue and 11th Street North.

At least twice a day, however, there’s pedestrian and vehicle activity. Not every pedestrian uses the crosswalks, of course.

“Around 3:30 p.m. or so, there’s so much going on,” Wahpeton Public Schools Superintendent Rick Jacobson said. “There’s the buses, the vehicles coming down the street and the kids crossing.”

Jacobson said he’d support whatever plan Wahpeton would have.

“I just hate to see somebody get hurt,” he added.

The next city council meeting is scheduled for 5 p.m. Monday, Dec. 3 at City Hall, 1900 Fourth St. N. in Wahpeton.

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