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City of Billings working on solution for traffic issues in Billings Heights after concern from residents

City of Billings Public Works truck
Posted at 5:33 PM, Sep 09, 2022
and last updated 2022-09-10 13:39:14-04

BILLINGS — Two children have been struck by cars on Lake Elmo Drive this year while waiting for the school bus. Parents in the Billings Heights area say they have had enough.

In March, Megan Vaden watched in horror as her then 8-year-old son Ben laid lifeless in the street. He had forgotten his coat, and what happened next changed their lives forever.

"He went to come back to the house real quick because the bus was on its way, and he got smacked at 35 MPH and was thrown 15 feet and was unconscious for three minutes. We thought he was dead," Vaden recalls.

Ben survived but endured a severe concussion, brain damage, and a traumatic brain injury.

Since this incident, Vaden has been pleading with the city to make a change on this road before another child is hit. Multiple residents in the area have complained to the city, which has led the city to take a closer look at this road.

City Engineer Mac Fogelsong says that Public Works has been working to come up with a solution for this problem since the complaints started this past spring.

"We take a data-driven approach, and Lake Elmo's a long corridor, so some of the road functions differently south of Wicks versus north of Wicks. There's probably some surgical solutions we can do from a safety standpoint, but that's probably a combination of (things)," says Fogelsong.

A lot of planning needs to go into the solution, so while it might seem like nothing is getting done, city officials say they are hard at work. Some traffic studies have been done, but more data needs to be collected before the city can move forward with anything, officials say.

Fogelsong explains that speed humps, stop signs, and crosswalk improvements are all possibilities for this road. The crosswalk improvements range from visual to physical and could look like elevated crosswalks or flashing beacons.

When asked about speed monitors, Fogelsong says that they are generally only effective for short periods of time before they start to get treated like a regular speed sign. He notes that during the speed studies north of Wicks Lane this past spring, average speeds were 34-36 mph, which (along with other criteria) is not high enough to add cause to lower the speed limit.

While the city works to come up with the right solution, Fogelsong wants to give a shout out to Billings School District 2 for the work they're doing to help this issue.

"I think the school district has recently made a change for the better, and I give them a thumbs up. They've added their bus pickup on both sides of Lake Elmo, so that kids don't have to cross the street to get on the bus," Fogelsong says.

While many parents are frustrated, the city needs to follow these steps to move forward. They must collect the proper data to support the changes.

"There's always downsides to some of these elements that we need to consider," states Fogelsong.