CHEYENNE —A bill that would allocate $10 million for school crosswalk improvements and pedestrian bridges was advanced unanimously Wednesday by the Senate Appropriations Committee.

This was the second time Senate File 35 was considered by a committee during this year’s general session, after it was approved by the Senate Transportation, Highways and Military Transportation Committee earlier this week. Although members of the Transportation Committee approved the bill, it had to be referred to Appropriations due to its appropriation.

It passed through both committees successfully, as well as the full Senate by Wednesday afternoon. It will go on to second reading in the coming days.

The legislation is sponsored by the Joint Judiciary Committee, which studied crosswalk safety as an interim topic in response to statewide community concerns. Pedestrian accidents were brought to legislators’ attention, including the death of a junior high student in Cheyenne who was struck and killed while using a crosswalk outside of his school more than a year ago.

Sen. Tara Nethercott, R-Cheyenne, was the former chairwoman of the Senate Judiciary Committee and now sits on the Senate Appropriations Committee. She said the bill was the result of the surprising statistics surrounding the number of children coming into contact with traffic on Wyoming roads.

The state is largely rural, and Nethercott recognized it is beneficial because there is no high-intensity traffic or large numbers of pedestrians walking around on the streets. But there are still issues.

“It’s an important conversation for the state to be having concerning the safety of crosswalks. Both for children going to school and otherwise,” she said. “The 12 fatalities in Wyoming are 12 unnecessary fatalities.”

The bill has been backed not just by Cheyenne lawmakers seeking improved safety for students, but the Wyoming Department of Transportation. 

Officials have focused on a crosswalk safety awareness campaign in the past year and are looking for ways to use the funding to improve their systems. This could be in the form of an underpass or overpass, a high-amplitude blinker system or additional signage.

WYDOT also has given multiple presentations to lawmakers throughout the interim, including a report on the 12 pedestrian fatalities in 2021.

While the agency is in support of the bill and would be responsible for administering the funds, it would be up to communities to apply before 2028. The purpose would be for school crosswalk safety projects on state highways and the roadways of municipalities, but it doesn’t have to go toward only items such as signals or lighting. Funding could be appropriated for planning or design, as well as to improve existing crosswalks.

The state agency would be responsible for prioritizing distributions, as well. It would be based on whether there was a fatality or injury that occurred at a school crosswalk or

was identified in a local transportation plan.

“It would be an evolution process as we go forward,” said WYDOT Director Luke Reiner. “But I think this is a really nice approach to help keep our streets and our families and our kids and our communities safe.”

The appropriation was the focus in the meeting Wednesday morning, but other stakeholders voiced their support at the Senate Transportation Committee held Monday.

Janelle Jones is the mother of the McCormick Junior High student who was killed, and she came before legislators to push for the funding. 

She started a nonprofit organization, ForMak, that was named in honor of her son, and has been taking every opportunity to educate the public and government officials on the need for improvement.

“I’m here in support of this bill,” she said. “I can tell you that from a parent’s standpoint, this has been tragic. It’s been awful. And I wish to see nobody else go through this.”

She doesn’t just want to impact the Cheyenne community, but the rest of the state.

“We need to do better,” Jones said. “And I think in our state, we have all these beautiful amenities. We have so many wonderful things. And when I listened today about budget talks and money being spent, what is more precious than our own families, than our own kids and getting our kids to and from school safely.”

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