City shifts gears with new school zone signs

Example of the variable speed limit signs that will be installed in Federal Way school zones. - Courtesy image
Example of the variable speed limit signs that will be installed in Federal Way school zones.
— image credit: Courtesy image

The Federal Way City Council, during its Aug. 6 meeting, approved a change to its school zone enhancement plan.

The council approved the city staff's recommendation to purchase and install "variable readout" signs at a number of school zones throughout the city. The plan had previously called for the purchase and installation of "blank out" signs similar to the ones encountered on I-5 outside of Seattle.

However, that plan was scrapped after the city learned of a number of issues in dealing with the vendor of those signs, said Rick Perez, senior traffic engineer for the city.

The Washington State Department of Transportation's (WSDOT) experience with these blank out signs has not been that favorable, Perez said.

"The vendor did not make their delivery dates, not by a long shot actually, and the equipment has not been terribly reliable," he said.

Perez said the city of Renton had found another vendor for the blank out signs, but that the customer service experience with that vendor was even worse.

"That vendor had been slow to deliver, basically, what's promised in two weeks ends up being closer to six months. The software has a few bugs in it, and the vendor has not been particularly responsive to resolving these issues," he said. "And it has been particularly troublesome for (the city of Renton) in their photo enforcement locations."

Perez noted that neither city staff nor King County staff had been able to find another vendor of the "blank out" signs, which meant the shift to the variable readout signs.

"Basically it's a speed limit sign that has a digital readout for the number, so it would read…20 mph when the school zone is in effect," he said, noting that the message would change in most cases to indicate a speed limit of 35 mph for non-school hours.

Perez said installation of these variable readout signs would likely be completed by the end of October.

Along with this, Perez updated the council on the improvements being made to six schools in the city this summer: Saghalie Middle School, Spring Valley Montessori, Twin Lakes Elementary, Brooklake Christian School, Panther Lake Elementary and Sacajawea Middle School. The improvements being implemented at these schools include larger school zone signs, and advance warning signs that notify people there's a school zone ahead.

There were also some retrofits that will upgrade the pedestrian crossings at Saghalie, Perez added, while school zone flashers are being added to Dash Point Road near Sacajawea.

"The rectangular flashing beacons for Saghalie and the school zone flashers for Sacajawea, in both cases the equipment has been ordered," Perez said. "Delivery is expected in mid-August, and construction is to be completed by the end of August."

The school zone enhancement plan is being carried out on a school by school basis, with an annual average cost of $215,000 a year, according to the city.


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