Note: This story was updated at 10:20 a.m. March 10.
The Oak Ridge City Council has postponed a vote on a contract to install a stoplight at the Oak Ridge Turnpike in front of Oak Ridge High School. The light could eliminate the need for a crossing guard.
City officials had said the light could be installed by August 2015, but the postponement of the contract vote to the April meeting will likely delay the completion date, possibly until after school starts later this year.
The installation could cost roughly $177,000. It would be paid for using unspent money from the Special Programs Fund, the fund set up for traffic, pedestrian, and bicycle safety projects using money from the traffic cameras that were removed last year.
The contract would be awarded to S&W Contracting Company Inc. of Murfreesboro. That company submitted the lowest of two bids.
Council members and a few residents had questions about the light, and one Council member, Rick Chinn, said he would not support it. Chinn said his vote shouldn’t be perceived as anti-safety, but he didn’t think the traffic signal was a good use of money.
Several other Council members were prepared to support the contract.
The vote to postpone was 5-1. Council member Chuck Hope voted no.
Oak Ridge City Council member Kelly Callison was absent.
In March 2014, the City Council asked the Traffic Safety Advisory Board to review possible traffic control measures to improve safety at the Turnpike crossing between the High School and the Oak Ridge Civic Center and Public Library. After a few months of study and considering several alternatives, the TSAB recommended a stoplight there in July, and Council, which then included four members who are no longer members, approved the installation.
The stoplight would include an all-red phase that would give pedestrians time to cross while all traffic is stopped. The light would be green except when a pedestrian is trying to cross or a car is trying to turn left out of the Oak Ridge High School.
Chinn advocated for a push-button crosswalk or a bridge over the Turnpike that could be built using private funds.
“Another red light to slow people down is just ridiculous,” Chinn said.
But Bill Polfus, chair of the city’s Traffic Safety Advisory Board, said the city can’t use flashing lights, like those used at a push-button crosswalk on Emory Valley Road, in front of the High School on Oak Ridge Turnpike. That’s because the flashing lights would be too close to where cars come out of the intersection, Polfus said.
Council member Chuck Hope said children use that crosswalk morning and night for such activities as day camps and swimming and band practice, and some 200 to 300 students cross the Turnpike there at some times during the summer.
Council member Trina Baughn said the stoplight would be cheaper than a pedestrian bridge, which has been previously advocated by local residents but estimated to cost $1 million or more.
“This is a steal,” Baughn said of the traffic signal.
Improving that crossing has been an concern for years.
“This (has been) an issue ever since I’ve lived in Oak Ridge,” Council member Ellen Smith said.