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Afternoon lights pave way for safer student travel in Maple

Municipalities, and individuals chipped in to help fund flashing lights on U.S. Highway 2.

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Vehicle pass by a newly-installed flashing caution light along U.S. Highway 2 near Northwestern Elementary School on Friday, July 1, 2022. The light, and one installed near Northwestern Middle School facing the opposite direction, will turn on for 30 minutes on weekday afternoons to encourage traffic to slow down and allow buses to safely turn onto the highway.
Maria Lockwood / Superior Telegram
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MAPLE — Flashing lights will greet afternoon motorists on U.S. Highway 2 near Northwestern Middle and Elementary schools starting Sept. 1.

The ‘wig wag’ lights, installed in late June, are the result of a year of effort focused on improving safety for students in the Maple School District. The lights signal to motorists that they are coming up to a school entrance with a suggested speed limit of 45 mph.

The school district’s transportation office can control the lights, according to District Administrator Sara Croney. They will flash for about 30 minutes as school is letting out, roughly between 3:10-3:40 p.m., to allow 15 buses to make a left turn crossing traffic from Wiehe Road on their way to Northwestern High School.

“We’re purposely only having them for when there is a need because we just don’t want people to … get immune to it,” Croney said.

The flashing lights are an upgrade from caution signs that were placed near the schools in September 2021 to encourage traffic to slow down. The new lights were funded in part by local municipalities the district serves.

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Buses load students from Northwestern elementary and middle schools each afternoon, then travel to Northwestern High School to pick up high school students. In March 2021, the district started routing buses down back roads in the village of Poplar and town of Maple, a roughly 2.4-mile journey from the rear of Northwestern Middle School down Wiehe Road, Bayfield Road, Gonschorek Loop and a small segment of Douglas County F to Northwestern High School.

The move drew concern from residents along the road, as well as town and village officials. When half of a 48-inch culvert along Gonschorek Loop collapsed as a grader was going over it, the area was closed to through traffic. School buses returned to the U.S. Highway 2 route.

Representatives from Maple, Poplar, the Wisconsin Department of Transportation and the school district held ad hoc meetings to find solutions. Options included the caution signs and the flashing lights.

The school district requested a $600 donation from each municipality and village it serves to help offset the cost of the lights. The towns of Amnicon, Hawthorne, Highland, Iron River, Lakeside and Maple and the village of Poplar each pledged $600 to the district.

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From left, Dan Bergsten, trustee for the village of Poplar; Sara Croney, district administrator for the Maple School District; Mike Granlund, Maple School Board vice president; and Brad Larrabee, principal for both Northwestern and Iron River elementary schools, stand near a flashing caution light along U.S. Highway 2 near Northwestern Middle School on Tuesday, Aug. 16. The lights, which were installed in late June, will flash for 30 minutes every weekday afternoon to increase bus safety.
Contributed / Maple School District

A handful of Hughes residents also donated toward the effort. Croney said she attended four Hughes Town Board meetings to speak about the request, but the board did not vote to allocate funds for the lights.

However, board members Joel Kolling and Gerald Olson each donated their town paychecks of $161.61 and citizens from the town of Hughes also contributed for the lights — James Upthegrove and Kevin Armbruster each gave $100, John and Ellen Creegan gave $100.

“I think it was so powerful, and it was so touching. (Maple School Board member) Mike Granlund was sitting right there and so was I, and I was just kind of overwhelmed with that generosity,” Croney said.

It was a moment unlike any she’s had in her career, the administrator said. Board members thanked the municipalities and individuals who donated funds for the lights at their Aug. 15 meeting.

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The towns of Cloverland and Brule, as well as the village of Lake Nebagamon, voted not to donate funds for the lights. The district picked up the final $4,000 of the cost out of its general fund.

“We knew that the burden, the bulk of the burden needed to fall on us because we were making the initiative for safety for the kids,” Croney said.

She’s thrilled that it’s done and excited to see them come on when school starts Sept. 1. It’s a reminder to motorists that buses are trying to get onto the road safel."

“If people pay attention, slow down and let them cross,” Croney said.

Maria Lockwood covers news in Douglas County, Wisconsin, for the Superior Telegram.
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