Q: Who’s responsible for making sure school-zone signs across Tacoma aren’t obscured by brush or other vegetation? — Jack R., Tacoma
A: The short answer, Jack, is the owners of said vegetation.
We’ll get to the longer answer in a minute. Let us first let Jack tell his tale.
As a volunteer with Habitat for Humanity, he travels across the greater Pierce County region, helping erect houses for people who need them. (We here at Traffic Q&A headquarters salute Jack and other Habitat volunteers, who do necessary and noble work.)
During his drives, Jack notices things, including that some school-zone signs throughout Tacoma are obscured by vegetation.
“I have traveled from Interstate 5 to Midland several times a week for the past three years using South 84th Street,” he told us. “In all this time, foliage on street-side trees have blocked a driver’s view of the flashing school-zone warning lights approaching Baker Middle School.”
Jack said not being able to see the flashing lights gives drivers little chance of reducing their speeds before barreling into the school zone, potentially endangering the kids and risking an expensive ticket.
“I have noticed foliage blocking school-zone signs in other parts of the city from time to time as well, but I’ve never known who to call in the city about making sure the signs are visible,” he said.
“Who is responsible, and how can they be contacted?”
Now, someone (read: us) might think the place to start such an investigation would be with Tacoma Schools as “school” zones are what we’re talking about here.
That someone, we hate to admit, would be wrong. A person at Tacoma Schools patiently listened to our long-winded question before referring us on to the city of Tacoma, which owns and maintains the signs.
Chagrined but undaunted, we fired off an email to Stacy Ellifritt, who speaks for T-town’s Public Works Department.
Ellifritt related the following:
“The city’s public works street operations stated that, technically, according to the Tacoma Municipal Code, adjacent property owners are responsible for vegetation management.
“If the school sign is in front of school district property, they are responsible for clear vegetation; and if signs are in front of a private residence/business, then they are responsible for clearing the vegetation.”
“This code is enforced by code enforcement, and it is reactive. They receive a complaint, inspect the situation and then notify the property owner, and they have 18 days to rectify.”
One can make a request to have vegetation investigated by using the city’s TacomaFIRST 311 service and then clicking the “Make a Request” button and choosing “vegetation/trees obstructing street” from the drop-down menu.
Ellifritt says that in extreme cases, such as when the vegetation is causing an immediate public safety concern, city crews will be dispatched to clear the vegetation.
“But this is a case-by-case basis, and the request usually comes from Code Enforcement or Public Works Engineering,” she said.
So click away, Jack. The children and drivers of Tacoma will thank you.