The city of Alvord has approved an ordinance to establish a school zone speed limit of 25 mph along Farm Road 1655 in front of the Alvord Middle School campus at certain hours each school day.
That action should clear the way for the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) to install the long-awaited flashing signs – which would end an almost two-year crusade by school board member Vic Czerniak.
“The traffic study has been finished and been approved through Austin,” Natalie Galindo, public information officer for TxDOT’s Fort Worth District, said this week. “We are currently working with the city of Alvord to get the ordinances in place.
“Once the ordinances are finalized, we will proceed from there.”
The Alvord City Council approved an ordinance in August 2012 requesting TxDOT alter the speed limit from 30 mph to “20 mph when flashing, 30 mph all other times” and specifying the points at which the signs should be installed.
But apparently, at that time TxDOT did not have an up-to-date map of the city limits. Getting that update completed and through all the levels of government was one of the delays. Several traffic studies on the road also took considerable time.
Alvord city secretary Pamela Gregg said the new ordinance, which was approved Jan. 9, was sent to TxDOT last week.
Currently the speed limit along the road, starting about a mile west of the U.S. 287 access road, is 30 mph within the zone the city annexed when the middle school was built. But Czerniak said TxDOT’s latest traffic study showed drivers are going 40 to 50 mph, with some clocked as high as 70.
Visibility is the problem. Czerniak said when you’re coming east on FM 1655, because of the grade and an S-curve, a driver can’t even see the school buildings until they’re almost at the school’s driveway – which itself is badly in need of some kind of structure, gate or sign to make it stand out.
“Nobody pays attention to the 30 mph zone,” he said. “Can you imagine coming around that corner at 70 mph? That’s where the entrance is to that school. It’s just a ticking time bomb.”
Czerniak started working on the school zone at least two years ago, and the city has responded quickly to every request. The delays, he said, have come at the state level.
Meanwhile, Alvord ISD doesn’t even allow its buses to use the middle school’s main driveway because of the lack of visibility.
“You can’t see the entrance,” Czerniak said. “It’s enough of a grade that you can’t see it until you’re right there.
“We need a marker – something you can see.”
The city did install a streetlight about a year ago, and after a few other projects are completed, the school district hopes to have enough funds to install electronic marquee signs at all of its schools.
“If we can do that, you have a light, an indicator,” Czerniak said. “Even at night, you have something.”
One student, now a high school sophomore, who lives directly across the street from the middle school is not allowed to walk to school because of the danger of crossing FM 1655. She has to board the bus at the start of its route, then ride the entire route to come back to the school that’s just across the road.
“Then when they come back, instead of being able to turn into the school, they have to go down the access road, through the high school parking lot, back around the football field, back up behind the middle school, around and drop the kids off, then go back to the bus barn,” Czerniak said. “And it’s reverse order in the afternoon.”
He said school bus drivers are under strict orders not to use that driveway.
“A bus, once you commit on a turn, it’s not like a car. People come around there at 70 mph … We’re doing everything we can to protect the kids, faculty and citizens.”
The issue is not just a school board matter to Czerniak – it’s personal. Alvord ISD has suffered several tragedies, losing five students within less than two years beginning in November 2010. Two of those died on the railroad tracks and three perished in automobile accidents – including Czerniak’s stepdaughter, Samantha Rogers.
“Alvord has gone through so much with the loss of all our kids and stuff. The safety of our kids, the safety of the faculty – that’s paramount. That’s a ticking time bomb right there. It’s a bad situation.”
If a flashing sign can save a child’s life, Czerniak said he will pay for it himself if he has to.
“Just give us the sign,” he said. “Help us protect the kids.”