FDOT to evaluate safety of Alachua school zone

A Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) spokesperson said Wednesday that the agency will evaluate whether any safety improvements should be made along State Road 235 at the entrance of the Alachua Learning Academy (ALA).

The decision comes a week after a head-on collision involving a student’s grandparent in one vehicle and a mother and children ages 6 and 7 in the other vehicle. All four accident victims were wearing seatbelts but ended up seeking medical evaluations. The grandfather was taken to a local hospital.

Parents and ALA Principal K.P. Rivera said semi trucks and traffic passing the school at 55 mph and higher have been a concern for years, especially during the morning dropoff and afternoon pickup periods.

Currently, two yellow 45 mph caution signs with flashing lights and a “School Entrance” sign alert drivers that the school exists. But the yellow signs are only a suggestion that drivers slow down, not enforceable speed limit reductions. 

Alachua County Engineer and Public Works Director Ramon Gavarrete said on Friday (April 9) that because ALA is a public charter school, the principal needed to reach out to the School Board of Alachua County and the FDOT to communicate his concerns in order for the FDOT to consider making changes to the school zone. Rivera did so immediately.

Troy Roberts, communications specialist for FDOT explained why the highway in front of the ALA has just the two 45 mph signs compared the multiple safety precautions that form the school zone on the same highway two miles south for Alachua Elementary School.

There, vehicles are greeted in both directions with multiple overhead 15 mph signs with flashing lights, “School Zone” signage, multiple crosswalks on the road and bright student crossing signs.

“In recent years, the FDOT has installed school entrance signs with an advisory 45 mph speed limit, followed by upgrades of flashing beacons to alert motorists that a school is ahead,” Roberts said. “The current signage with flashing beacons [at ALA] is a typical countermeasure for schools that do not have students walking or biking to school, which is the primary purpose of a school zone.

Roberts said the school zone question has been studied in the past: “During past analyses, crash data and a lack of pedestrian traffic at this location has not indicated the need for a school zone.”

Roberts said the FDOT will evaluate this request to “see if there are any additional safety improvements that can be made.”

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