Joliet's Laraway School officials look for safe passage

School buses at odds at times with semitrailers

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JOLIET – Darrell Williams had just done his duty as the human stop sign of the day at Laraway School.

Everything had gone smoothly it seemed, which was good, since Williams was standing in the middle of Laraway Road in Joliet, holding back semitrailers lining the road both to the east and west of him by holding up a red stop sign as school buses pulled out to take students home for the day.

But it did not go quite so smoothly.

“That trucker wouldn’t let me cross,” Williams said as he got back to the school.

One trucker, apparently impatient after waiting for the buses, drove through after the last one had pulled out, before Williams could cross the road.

But that’s not so bad, considering other stories.

A former custodian doing stop sign duty a few years ago once jumped into a ditch to avoid a trucker who either didn’t see him or didn’t care.

Williams, who otherwise does maintenance work for the school, has not jumped into a ditch, yet. But he may have been tempted.

“I’ve had them blow by the stop sign sometimes,” he said. “It gets pretty dangerous when they get a convoy going and they don’t want to stop.”

Laraway School has had a hazardous relationship with the burgeoning logistics industry growing around it on the south end of Joliet.

The good and the bad

The school is near the boundary of CenterPoint Intermodal Center-Joliet. It is along the route to other trucking destinations, including a Waste Management landfill. And buses transporting students head to the corner of Laraway and Route 53, an intersection that is such a nexus for semitrailer traffic that one truck stop has opened, another has been announced and a third is rumored to be under consideration.

The state-ordered closing of Walter Strawn Drive in Elwood, one of the access points to CenterPoint Intermodal Center-Elwood, also is believed to have diverted more truck traffic to Laraway Road.

“It’s been a problem for a while, and it doesn’t seem to get any better,” school Superintendent Gary Bradbury said.

“We’re always concerned with the speed at which some of those trucks are going past the school, even though it’s a school zone and there are flashing lights,” Bradbury said. “It’s been our experience that some of the trucks blow right past that and travel at a high rate of speed.”

The trucks and warehouse development have not been all bad news for the Laraway School District, which includes one other school, Oak Valley School on Richards Street.

Financially, Bradbury said, the school district is much better off because of the business development and the property taxes it has generated.

“Because of these businesses, our schools are in a much better place than it was years ago,” he said. “It’s good and bad. We recognize that every truck that goes past that school represents revenue for our district.”

School for sale

The solution, he said, is to move the school. The district has bought 26 acres on Rowell Avenue to do just that – some day. But Laraway School needs to be sold first, and it is for sale.

“We have 40 acres on Laraway Road,” Bradbury said. “In order to have the revenue we would need to build a new school, we would have to sell that property.”

A neighboring landowner could add another 46 acres for a buyer who needs a bigger parcel, he said.

Laraway Transportation Coordinator Sherry Knight agrees moving the school is the ultimate answer.

But she also thinks there needs to be better enforcement of traffic laws.

Knight said trucks regularly run the red light at Laraway and Route 53. She gives orders to bus drivers never to enter the intersection on a green light until they are sure trucks in the crossing lanes have stopped.

And, there are other issues, too.

School buses are required by law to stop at railroad tracks.

“They stop,” Knight said. “The truck drivers come within an inch of their [rear] bumpers and lay on the horn. It’s crazy stuff.”

A different route

Something else that may help is routing truck traffic in another direction.

CenterPoint Intermodal Center-Joliet was designed to move trucks along Arsenal Road to Interstate 55, said Michael Murphy, chief development officer at CenterPoint Properties.

Murphy said CenterPoint has talked with companies that have moved into the industrial park about which way trucks are going, although he noted CenterPoint does not control the drivers.

“We’ve really gone out of our way with all of our clients to direct traffic on Arsenal Road and out to I-55, but we really don’t control traffic on Laraway,” Murphy said.

But, he added, “We want to be part of a solution.”