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WEST PENNSBORO TOWNSHIP – Big Spring School District plans to spend part of a $750,000 state grant to improve safety for pedestrians using the crosswalk between Big Spring High School and Mount Rock Elementary School.

Upwards of 100 to 150 high school students cross Mount Rock Road each school day for sports and physical education classes that use the practice fields and district fitness center adjacent to the elementary school, Superintendent Richard Fry said. “It is the busiest road in the township.”

Though traffic studies estimate the average speed as 35 miles-per-hour, the speed limit for that stretch of Mount Rock Road is 25 miles-per-hour, Fry said. “We had two students hit by cars. That has been eight or nine years ago. Both ended up being fine.”

Officers keep busy anytime there is a speed enforcement detail by either state police or the Newville Borough police, Fry said. He said that two different traffic studies have determined the crosswalk area does not meet Pennsylvania Department of Transportation warrants for a signal.

There are no sidewalks on the elementary school side of the crosswalk or along that stretch of Mount Rock Road, Fry said. “We are looking at ways to make that safe for the students.”

Three of the five school buildings, along with the district administrative center, are located on the campus bisected by Mount Rock Road. Oak Flat and Newville elementary schools are elsewhere.

The school board has already hired the engineering firm of Michael Baker International of Harrisburg to research and recommend proposed safety upgrades that include a comprehensive update of all the traffic signage serving district buildings.

In working with the administration, the engineer has identified an estimated $225,000 in improved signage that would enhance safety and bring the district up-to-date with current state regulations, Fry said. He added the intent is to use the $225,000 as the 30-percent local match on a $750,000 intermodal transportation grant where PennDOT provides $525,000 in funding for other safety improvements.

Board members recently asked Michael Baker to study the crosswalk and develop options to improve its safety, Fry said. The PennDOT grant can pay for design and consultation services as well as implementation.

The hope is that the engineer can have options back within the next four to six weeks, Fry said. Because Mount Rock is a township-owned road, any changes to the crosswalk would have to be approved by West Pennsboro Township officials. PennDOT would also have a say because state money is paying for the safety upgrade.

It could be summer 2016 before safety improvements are installed at the intersection, Fry said. Meanwhile, district administrators will be meeting with officials in Newville Borough and the townships of West Pennsboro and North Newton to make sure the sign upgrades planned for district buildings meet local regulations.

The school board recently rejected a proposal to construct a pedestrian walkway tunnel under Mount Rock Road that would have cost $2 million to construct, Fry said. “Even with the grant, it was cost-prohibitive.” Board members felt crosswalk improvements were a better option.

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History and education reporter for The Sentinel.