Slow down on Continental Drive

This file photo shows the busy stretch on Continental Drive that runs past Hillcrest Elementary School.

After stirring terse words among commissioners and residents, efforts to get permanent radar speed signs placed along Continental Drive in front of Hillcrest Elementary School might be headed toward a solution.

Nothing is set yet, but a possible partnership between the county and Butte Schools could make the signs at Hillcrest a reality in the coming weeks.

Butte Schools Superintendent Judy Jonart said Wednesday that if the county draws up an acceptable agreement and school board members give her an OK, she will look for money that could pay for the signs.

The county’s part would be installing and maintaining the signs and providing their power, said Butte Silver-Bow Commissioner Cindy Perdue-Dolan.

She said county officials are drawing up a “memorandum of understanding” – or MOU – that would spell out what the county and school district would do. It would have to be approved by the council and school board. 

Jonart and Perdue-Dolan are hopeful something can be worked out.

“We just want to make sure it is safe for the kids,” Jonart said. “That is my top priority – student safety.”

Perdue-Dolan acknowledged the issue had become controversial and elicited sharp words at a recent council meeting, but said this could be a positive result.

“Initially we talked about doing a partnership and I think that is realistic,” she said. “The goal is to work is to work together and find a solution.”

Some residents who live near the school, as well as the principal at Hillcrest, say the area is especially dangerous for kids and radar signs slow down traffic.

They say Continental is a designated state highway, is heavily traveled and speeding is a major problem. It’s also dangerous because the speed limit during Hillcrest School hours is 25 mph while it’s 15 mph at other schools in Butte, they say.

The council’s Public Works Committee recommended against the county paying for and installing permanent signs. They cost up to $9,000 each and county officials say many drivers would ignore permanent signs, just as they do other speed-limit signs.

The committee voted instead to have mobile signs placed at Hillcrest, but like other locations in town, only temporarily.

The full council took up the matter on Sept. 20 and sharp words were exchanged. Some residents accused commissioners of placing other factors ahead of child safety, drawing terse responses from some council members. There were also claims that that the issue was being politicized.

The council did not approve permanent signs but it did keep the issue alive by asking the Montana Department of Transportation, which has general oversight of Continental, to weigh in.

Perdue-Dolan said issues might have “risen to the surface” during the recent council meeting that had nothing to do with the actual proposal. Regardless, the possible partnership might be the solution because it means “other folks with skin in the game,” she said.

Jonart said if the county draws up an MOU, she would take it to the school board for consideration at its November meeting. That is the earliest it could be considered, she said.

She said she did not believe it would lead to all other schools in Butte asking for permanent radar signs, too. The speed limit is 15 mph through their zones and administrators from those schools have not raised the kinds of concerns there are at Hillcrest, she said.

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Reporter with emphasis on government and politics.

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