MAZOMANIE — When people talk about the May crash that killed Katie Binning, a beloved student teacher at Wisconsin Heights High School, few are surprised that it happened on Highway 14, right in front of the school.
Turning in to the school's parking lot is an act fraught with danger. New school employees are warned about it, and new drivers — and this is a rural school, so hundreds of students drive to school — are reminded of it.
Just weeks after the fatal crash, a consultant was hired to review the road's layout and crash and traffic data, said the Department of Transportation traffic supervisor for the region, Daniel Preuss.
In the short term — before school starts in fall — improvements such as signs and pavement markings will be made. In the long term, those improvements may involve changes in access to the school, said Preuss.
The high school between Black Earth and Mazomanie is on a straight stretch of Highway 14 between two curves. The speed limit is 55 mph.
Binning, a bubbly, just-graduated UW-Platteville student whose joys were art, athletics and teaching, died the morning of May 30 when her car was struck from behind by a semitrailer and pushed into the path of a van. The crash remains under investigation, with toxicology results yet to be reported.
The safety concerns are well documented in a 200-page DOT report from 2010 that makes numerous references to the school lot entrance, increasing traffic numbers, and what engineers call "possible concepts" on which to base changes.
DOT officials responded swiftly to the concerns after Binning's death. Those actions have already resulted in several measures that will have an immediate effect on traffic to, from and past the school, said district administrator Mark Elworthy.
Within a week of the crash, Dane County Executive Joe Parisi petitioned DOT Secretary Mark Gottlieb for a traffic study and seeking consideration for traffic-calming measures, speed limit reduction, grants for speed enforcement, and reconstruction of a nearby road and the school entrances to protect turn lanes. State Sen. Jon Erpenbach and Rep. Kelda Helen Roys joined in, assembling requests from residents and community leaders for such things as "school ahead" signs, longer turn lanes and more enforcement resources.
The School Board joined with area municipalities to open a conversation with the DOT.
"They are the experts. We want them to tell us what they can do," Elworthy said.
He said the group also wants to remind the DOT of the unusual factors affecting traffic around the school, such as the school "rush hours" — before and after class, and for evening sports and other events — and the lower age of most of the drivers. The school district issued 325 parking passes to students for the 2007-08 school year.
Michael Hoelker, DOT southwest region planning supervisor, said studies like the 2010 one are used to raise flags so that if a problem "pops up in the future, we can go back to the study to see if everything is still valid."
The Binning crash was a flag to revisit safety issues, and the 2010 study clearly addresses those with two proposals to realign the highway between the curves to improve safety for traffic in and out of the school.
But before that can be done — and even before classes resume — new signs will be installed on both sides of the road alerting motorists to the presence of a school, Preuss said. There will be additional school entrance signs, too.
Lowering the speed limit is a possibility, he said, though in general "in the country, if you slow it down, some drivers will go slower and others will still be driving fast, get frustrated, tailgate and take chances in a spot where people are trying to enter and exit."