Action News Jax investigates has obtained new crash numbers that-local families say-confirm a local road is dangerous for their children to walk along to school.
“There’s not a lot of space here,” observed Action News Jax Ben Becker. “No, none,” said Rachael Bunnell, a mother of three as they walked along St. Johns Parkway in northern St. Johns County.
Thousands of cars travel the road every day, but there’s one problem for Bunnell, who lives in the St. Johns Forest neighborhood: the sidewalk, which sits less than two miles away from Liberty Pines Academy.
Action News Jax first reported in 2018 that the St. Johns County school district first cancelled school bus service from most of the St. Johns Forest to the school - after the Florida Department of Transportation built the new sidewalk as part of the 9B extension to St. Johns Parkway.
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But in an Action News Jax investigation, the St. Johns County Sheriff’s Office tells Becker between 2019-2021 there were 224 crashes on an eight mile stretch of the road, including near the neighborhood.
“When I tell you that number you say what?,” Becker asked Bunnell. “Gets me furious,” responded Bunnell.
Florida statute says a school district is required to provide busing only if students lives more than “2 miles or more from school” or if a path meets the state’s criteria of “hazardous walking conditions.”
“That road is supposed to be 45 miles an hour, some people not driving 45 miles an hour especially early in the morning,” says State Senator Travis Hutson, who represents St. Johns County. He pushed for a solution- Florida is spending $800,000 in next year’s fiscal budget to relocate the sidewalk further from the roadway and so it will wind though nearby trees.
“This is a fallback plan to make sure those kids are protected as they go to school,” says Hutson.
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But Bunnell says that’s not good enough.
“There’s no way they could move this section because this section belongs to the neighborhood,” said Bunnell as she pointed near homes. “So the new sidewalk wouldn’t take place until you get further up here.”
Becker called the school district to ask if buses could still be an option, although local parents lost that battle in a 2019 decision by an administrative judge.
The school district told Becker it has not been contacted on the project and to contact FDOT.
Becker emailed FDOT and asked if this money to change the sidewalk suggests there was a flaw with the original design.
FDOT said in a statement:
“All construction projects carried out by FDOT are designed to meet or exceed all state safety requirements.”
Becker pressed FDOT to know which was it for the current sidewalk - does it meet or exceed safety requirements?
“Inspectors look to ensure the minimum requirements are met. This is required per contract. Inspectors do not look to see if the construction exceeds the requirements,” said FDOT.
As for Bunnell, she is still driving towards busing.
“It’s very sad our neighborhood is still fighting for something we should not have had to fight for in the first place,” says Bunnell.
A new sidewalk is expected to take a year to complete, meaning students will have to use the current sidewalk next school year.
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