Busy intersection near school causes parent to step in

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WHITING, Wis. (WSAW) -- A busy area is causing one parent in Portage County to go out of her way to help kids cross it to and from school safely. At the beginning of each year, municipal, law enforcement, and school leaders hear from residents concerned about the intersection near McDill Elementary School in Whiting.

That intersection is County Highway HH or McDill Avenue and School Street.

Jessica Haas is a parent of two students at the school. Moving to home nearby from the Madison area recently, she quickly decided she would dedicate her time to help make the road safer for kids.

"My children walk because we're so close. So, I thought I wasn't going to let them cross unless I was here and might as well help everyone else," she said.

She even based her new job around the school hours, ensuring she could always be at the intersection for a half hour when school begins and ends.

"Hopefully more will cross if I'm out here."

She told NewsChannel 7 at least five kids regularly cross at that intersection. About eight crossed while our cameras were there, but the school's principal said at least 20 students live in the area that would cross that intersection should they choose to walk. Principal Jeanne Koepke recommends a different option.

"I encourage parents to use the bus," she urged. "We have transportation that we know is safe and is a very short duration on the bus."

Koepke said they do practice safe biking and walking with students at the beginning of the year as well, but found after working with the village, county, and law enforcement, the bus option is safest.

Whiting's village president, Paul Stroik said they have not had a crossing guard since 2012 after a couple retired. They told him it was time for them to go into retirement, but also they were concerned about some close calls they encountered with traffic while crossing children.

Haas said she has had similar problems.

"The morning of walk and bike to school, I had someone actually come up to the crossing from this side," she said indicating a car traveling westbound and to the second set of crossing lines," come up and her bumper was actually over the cross walk by the time she stopped. And I was right there with a family of four."

"It is a 25 mile per hour speed zone, but we found that 85 percent of the traffic is traveling at 35 miles per hour or less," Chief Deputy Dan Kontos of the Portage County Sheriff's Office said.

While speeding is sometimes an issue, he indicated distracted driving is also a factor. Clear problems with the intersection and residents voicing concerns has caused deputies to dedicate extra time to patrol the area.

"With 820 square miles to cover for the county, sometimes with only three or four patrol deputies, that quarter mile stretch does get more enforcement probably than any quarter mile stretch in the county," he said.

The sheriff's office also donated one of two speed radars to the village. That radar is placed near the intersection to help slow drivers headed west. The village plans to purchase another radar, which will be placed near the intersection for eastbound traffic. The village has also placed a flashing school zone sign at the crossing, with Stroik saying they have done everything they can, as County Highway HH is a county owned road.

Portage County Board Chairman Philip Idsvoog told NewsChannel 7 the issue of this intersection has come up in meetings in the past, but not recently.

Stroik added the village no longer funds a crossing guard position at that intersection, but would consider doing so if someone came to them willing to dedicate every morning and afternoon to the position.

The county highway commissioner, Nathan Check said they have looked at various solutions proposed to them and have looked for their own options as well, but currently, the bus option has been deemed the best solution at this time. Check said they do plan to do traffic studies through that area once they have the technology to do so. He expects to get that technology this fall or at least by spring.