ATHABASCA — A lack of sidewalks in the Hamlet of Rochester is posing a continued threat to resident and student safety.
At the Aspen View Public Schools (AVPS) meeting Oct. 7, Supt. Neil O’Shea informed the board the division had received a letter from Athabasca County asking for support to lobby Alberta Transportation to lower the speed limit on Highway 661 from 80 km/h to 50 km/h.
“They have written a letter to the Minister of Transportation around reducing the speed limit in Rochester to a 50 km zone on the section where buses would be turning.,” said O’Shea. “They did ask the Athabasca operations manager, but that request was denied.”
He added the ask was turned down due to insufficient data for Alberta Transportation to warrant changing the speed, but a 2019 vehicle count showed an average of 510 vehicles per day driving where residents and students must walk to get both to the school and other side of the community.
“Vehicles using this route must reduce their speed significantly to use the intersection turning south, therefore speed reduction has no significant impact,” O’Shea read from the Athabasca County letter.
Trustee April Bauer noted residents of Rochester would prefer safe passage over reducing the speed limit but will take whatever they can get to keep safe.
“If this speed reduction doesn't happen, they will be petitioning the county again – this will be the third time – for sidewalks and crosswalks,” she said. “So that is something that they in lieu of this actually going through and I think that they would like it even if the speed was changed to be honest; just safe passage for anybody that walks in the community.”
Trustee Dennis MacNeil was principal at Rochester School before he retired and confirmed the students walked along the highway, much to the concern of chair Candy Nikipelo.
“In the in the summertime, and in the fall and the spring once the snow is gone, they do go off into the ditch,” Bauer said. “But in the wintertime, the only safe place for them to walk is on the highway and it's 80 km/h.”
O’Shea added the section of highway in question is not immediately adjacent to the school which may also hinder the speed reduction request.
Trustees voted unanimously to support Athabasca County in their efforts to have the government reduce the speed.