Peter Epler helps a Houghtaling student cross the street safely in 2016. (KRBD file photo by Ruth Eddy)

Following news that the state Department of Education and Early Development has accepted the Houghtaling drop-off-zone project for its 70-percent reimbursement program, the Ketchikan Gateway Borough Assembly voted 5-2 Monday to approve funding for the project.

The new drop-off zone will provide an off-street location next to the school where buses and parents can drop off and pick up Houghtaling Elementary School students.

That block of Baranof Road is extremely busy, and has been a safety concern. During public comment, Liz Jones of the Houghtaling PTA noted that a traffic study specifically mentioned the congestion problems.

Jones said the new drop-off zone will take some of that congestion off the main street. She said the estimated $280,000 cost to the borough is well worth spending.

“That is a low cost to you when you consider that we are talking about saving the lives of children,” she said. “If you do not do this, you will be putting a price tag on one of my children, or one of the children that was standing here. … There are a number of types of projects that these monies can be allocated towards. … But the most important of which is life-safety. This is not a what-if situation. This is a when.”

The total cost of the project, including a 5-percent contingency, is $929,000. The $280,000 cost to the borough is after state reimbursement.

Assembly Member Mike Painter said that with that reimbursement, he supports the project. But, he said, a new drop-off zone won’t fix the human element of the problem.

“This isn’t going to solve the – the residential area. People are late for work. You know, the stupid factor comes in,” he said.

Jones agreed, but said the new drop-off zone will mean fewer kids crossing the busy street.

Other parents and grandparents of Houghtaling students, along with educators asked the Assembly to approve the project, citing public safety. Renee Oyedeji said her son was almost hit by a car while in the crosswalk heading to school.

“It is nothing but the grace of God that saved him, as the SUV was literally inches from his face,” she said, tearfully. “As a mother on the other side of the road, you are helpless just watching it all happen in front of you. I thank the lord that my precious son is OK, but I would never with that experience on anyone.”

Oyedeji said a new drop-off zone is a step in the right direction. She also supports a lower speed limit in that area, and crossing guards.

The speed limit there during school hours is 20 mph. There were volunteer crossing guards at Houghtaling for a while, but that program waned.

During Assembly discussion of the issue, Assembly Member Rodney Dial said he is concerned the state could still back out of reimbursing the project. But, Dial was among the five yes votes.

Assembly Members John Harrington and Glen Thompson voted no. Thompson didn’t explain his vote, but Harrington said he believes the local cost will be closer to $400,000 once the project is complete.

With Monday’s approval, work on the project should start this week to be completed in time for school to start in the fall.

Also Monday, the Assembly agreed to have a work session during its June 19 meeting to discuss ways of funding local non-profit agencies. Assembly Member Dial suggested using part of the new tobacco tax, as well as taxing sales by non-profit organizations, then using that revenue to help fund non-profits.