Simplified: A number of families around the soon-to-open Ben Reifel Middle School are ineligible for busing, and parents worry about the safety of their children if they have to walk or bike across Highway 11 to get to school.

Tell me more.

Ben Reifel Middle School is expected to open this fall. It's one of two new schools aimed at easing overcrowding and funded by a historic $190 million bond passed in 2018.

Several parents – including Sarah Sporrer, who will have two kids attending Ben Reifel this fall – are reaching out to school district officials, board members and even city officials to find a safe solution that doesn't involve kids crossing six lanes of 55 mph traffic.

"For right now, I think the Sioux Falls School District needs to bus these children until they can come up with a safe plan to get these kids to and from school," Sporrer said.

Why it matters:

  • It's normal for bus routes to leave out kids within walking distance to schools. What's less common, though, is for those walking routes to require many students to cross a road with a 55 mph speed limit.
  • It's not the potential two-mile walk that upsets parents, it's the need to cross the intersection at 41st Street and Highway 11.
  • Some parents say they don't have the flexibility at work to drive their kids to school, especially with start times at 8:45 a.m.
  • An additional concern for parents is the amount of growth and construction in the area. They fear that could pose additional risks for kids walking and biking to navigate around construction sites and vehicles.
Birds-eye view of 41st Street and Highway 11 (aka Veterans Parkway) via Google Maps.
Birds-eye view of 41st Street and Highway 11 (aka Veterans Parkway) via Google Maps.

What's a viable solution?

Hard to say, especially because school officials say any speed limit changes or walking bridges would be a city issue, not a district one.  

PATH, a group of city, school and community representatives that advocates for school traffic safety, discussed Ben Reifel at their January meeting. At that time, they said the city wanted to start with advisory speed limit signs rather than going straight to lowering the speed limit.

Parents argue that isn't enough and that a lower speed limit won't necessarily mean drivers will go slower.

Parents Sporrer, Kimberly Henderson, Dave Nelson and Amy Bruner agreed they weren't comfortable with their children crossing Highway 11.

"It's a scary crossing because the traffic runs through there at 55 mph ... I don't feel safe doing it, and I'm an adult," Bruner said.

Parents generally agree on three possible solutions:

  • A walking bridge over the highway or a tunnel underneath it
  • Slower speed limits similar to what you'd see in other school zones (usually 15 mph), or
  • Busing available to anyone who has to cross the highway.

But it's unclear at this time if any of those options are feasible.

What do officials say?

School district officials weren't available for an interview for this story.

School Board President Cynthia Mickelson made a few points:

  • The reality is, she said, the school district is in a city that has highways and interstates.
  • She also notes that undeveloped plots of land big enough to hold a school in southwest Sioux Falls were limited, and the current Ben Reifel location was their best option.
  • The district has asked PATH to consider recommending a lower speed limit from 55 mph to 45 mph during school drop-off and pickup times.
"We would love them to do (a tunnel) or an over-walk," Mickelson said, noting the district has no oversight on roads. "But the city has to do that."

What happens next?  

The PATH committee's next meeting is Thursday, March 11. Ben Reifel is set to open this fall.