With four highways converging in the city, Blair is a magnet for traffic.
Countless vehicles, including semi-tractor trailers, travel through the city each year. That doesn't exactly make downtown Blair and other areas in the city pedestrian friendly. It's one of the reasons the city has long been working on a bypass.
But a resurfacing project slated for this summer has raised concerns both with the city and residents. It's not the project itself that's concerning, but the Nebraska Department of Transportation's (NDOT) decision to remove a crosswalk signal on state Highway 91 between 22nd and 23rd streets as part of the project.
Rather than replace the signal, the state has opted to install a rectangular rapid flashing beacon (RRFB) at the same location. With the former West School building no longer being utilized by Blair Community Schools, the state determined that the crosswalk signal is no longer warranted.
The RRFB works similarly to a crosswalk signal. When a pedestrian wants to cross the highway, they will press a crosswalk button, which will start the beacon. The light will brightly flash and blink to alert drivers that someone is using the crosswalk and they should yield.
However, based on RRFBs installed in Lincoln, these lights are small and on a sign post next to the crosswalk. Much less noticeable than a signal that hangs across the road.
And let's be honest here, the intersection of Highway 91, Washington Street and 23rd Street is one of the strangest and possibly more dangerous in the county. All too often, there have been accidents on the Highway 91 curve coming into the city. Drivers don't slow as they should, while others on Washington and 23rd streets look and take a chance that no one is coming along the highway.
Even without the school, there is still likely to be plenty of pedestrian traffic as a day care is expected to open in the building and children living in the neighborhood will still need to cross the highway as they walk to school or go to use an area park.
The city had asked the NDOT to reconsider, and according to Blair Public Works Director Al Schoemaker, the state declined. NDOT officials should think twice before it's too late and the city faces another tragedy.