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La Crosse drivers will soon get ticketed if they pass a school bus flashing red lights after the La Crosse Common Council Thursday approved a new ordinance.

The ordinance was unanimously approved as part of the council’s consent agenda during a meeting that also saw a discussion on leaf pick-up, the postponement of a south side Tomah Veterans Affairs Medical Center proposal and the extension of a sewage service agreement with the town of Shelby.

The new ordinance gives the La Crosse Police Department authority to write local tickets to people who don’t stop for the red flashing lights on school buses.

“The big deal for us is we get reports daily from bus drivers that they’ve had people run the red lights,” said Mike Freybler, the energy and transportation manager for the La Crosse School District.

While Wisconsin statute requires school buses to use flashing red lights, and drivers to stop their vehicles not less than 20 feet from a bus displaying them, it makes an exception for areas with curb and gutter on both sides of the road, leaving that up to municipalities to govern, Freybler said.

Mayor Tim Kabat

Kabat

La Crosse Mayor Tim Kabat said it was important for the city to clearly identify the penalties of failing to stop when the red lights come on and the stop sign comes out, applauding the work of council members Andrea Richmond and Scott Neumeister to get it on the city’s agenda.

“We will hopefully made it clear that there are consequences if people do not follow that part of traffic laws,” Kabat said.

Freybler said he is pleased with the work the city is doing and is working with state legislators to take a closer look at the state law.

“We just want to do whatever we can to make it safe for the kids,” he said. “None of us would want that phone call that an accident happened.”

“Hopefully if we bring a little awareness to it that from here on out they will be ticketed, that will prevent it,” Freybler added.

Autumn clean-up

La Crosse Street Department employee Josh Navrestab cleans up leaves along Wood Street in November 2018.

Leaf collection

During the free discussion period of the meeting, council member Doug Happel took the opportunity to ask Kabat and the Board of Public Works to take a closer look at solving problems with the city leaf collection program, saying he’s had more calls about leaves that any other issue facing the city.

Happel Doug

Happel

“Some of the concerns I’ve had — with respect to my North Side colleagues — is that for the last 450 to 500 years, we seem to pick the leaves up on the North Side first and then the South Side. Unfortunately it seems to snow before the South Side leaves get picked up,” Happel said.

He’s also heard concerns about spots of dead grass on the boulevard from people who follow the city’s rules exactly, leaving the fall leaves on the grass out of the street to be picked up.

Kabat acknowledged that there have been some struggles with the program, particularly in the last few years as the city has prioritized street repairs and expanded the paving season later into the fall and early winter.

“The same crews that are paving streets and picking up leaves also have to then plow snow. Way back when — not quite 450 years ago as you said — but a few years ago, the street department had 60 people that worked in that department. Today they have 34 or 35,” Kabat said.

However, it is important for the city to find a resolution, he said, and the board will be discussing the issue in January, including the possibility of having crews go back out to collect leaves in the spring right after the snow melts.

Other business

The council also agreed to extend the city’s existing sanitary sewer agreement with the town of Shelby by six months, maintaining current rates while the two municipalities work on a new agreement.

“We are in the midst of those negotiations but don’t have them finalized yet,” Kabat said.

The agreement is separate from the intergovernmental boundary agreement that La Crosse and Shelby have been working on for the past several years.

The council also confirmed the decision of the Judiciary and Administrative Committee to give the Tomah VA Medical Center another month to address neighbor concerns and answer questions before voting on whether to allow the proposed transitional residence program facility on Farnam Street.

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Jourdan Vian can be reached at jvian@lacrossetribune.com or follow her on Twitter at @Jourdan_LCT.

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City government reporter

Jourdan Vian is a reporter and columnist covering local government and city issues for the La Crosse Tribune. You can contact her at 608-791-8218.

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