COLUMBIA — Deshawn and Deja Jones don’t have to walk 10 miles uphill in the snow to get to school, but when they grow up they can tell their children about the summer they had to use a stick to traverse a 10-foot ditch to catch the bus.
During the school year, the two Columbia residents catch the bus on Prairie Lane in the Vanderveen Crossing subdivision where they live. When summer school started in June, their stop moved west to a different section of Prairie Lane in the older Prairie Hills neighborhood. The problem: the eastern and western sections of the road aren’t connected.
The bus company was notified, and the route was changed back to stop on the east side.
“The way they got it set up with First Student, the road looks like it goes through,” Mark Jones, father of 12-year-old Deshawn and 16-year-old Deja, said. “We’re hoping we can get something done where we don’t have to go through that.”
Residents in the Prairie Hills neighborhood and Vanderveen subdivision are pushing for the city to connect their respective sides of Prairie Lane. For years, residents of the Prairie Hills neighborhood have enjoyed the peace and quiet of its two small streets, which intersect with each other and with Creasy Springs Road. But as the mammoth Vanderveen subdivision stretched west and it became clear the city would soon reach them, most of the Prairie Hills’ neighbors agreed to be annexed by the city last July with the condition that Prairie Lane remain disconnected until a dangerous curve on Creasy Springs Road could be eliminated.
One year later, some of the neighbors are calling for an immediate connection of the road. Others, however, say that would be hasty.
West Prairie Lane begins at Creasy Springs Road and dead ends at what some residents call “the dirty ditch,” which is filled with weeds, rocks, water and who knows what else. The eastern portion of Prairie Lane begins on the other side of that ditch and snakes through the Vanderveen subdivision.
“I would not allow my grandchildren near it,” resident Betty Avery said of the ditch. “There could be snakes in there, and it smells of something fierce.”
Avery lives next to the ditch and favors connecting the roads as soon as possible. In March, Avery’s husband suffered a possible heart attack. The ambulance drove north on Creasy Springs and east on Brown School Road to get to University Hospital, a trip Avery thinks is far too long.
Resident Larry Bossaller, citing safety worries, pleaded for immediate connection of Prairie Lane and West Prairie Lane in e-mails sent to city officials in June. In the past, flooding on Creasy Springs Road and Brown School Road left the Prairie Hills neighborhood isolated, he said, adding that children play around and in the ditch. He also noted that Prairie Hills is served by the Prathersville fire station — almost four miles away.
The new Fire Station No. 9, planned for the corner of Providence and Blue Ridge roads, would have much speedier access to the area if the roads were connected. Near the planned fire station is Grace Bible Church, where Prairie Hills residents vote. The church is only a mile away in a straight line , but the quickest route cuts through the Parkade neighborhood, doubling the distance.
The Prairie Hills neighborhood began discussing annexation in 2005, when Blue Ridge Road started to creep west instead of north as originally planned. After years of discussion and debate, 31 of the 42 lots in the neighborhood agreed to be annexed into the city. One demand was clear: Creasy Springs Road needs to be fixed. The neighborhood is nestled into the lower half of the road’s sharp curve. Both exits from the neighborhood are blind to one direction of traffic.
Resident Nancy Kievit was surprised to hear about the recent rush to connect Prairie Lane.
“Everybody wants to do it eventually,” Kievit said. “But half of us really want to wait until the Creasy Springs curve is straightened so we don’t have construction vehicles and trucks going through.”
On Tuesday, Kievit sent e-mails to the neighborhood listserv, which reaches 22 of the 42 households in the neighborhood. Those who had responded were split over whether to connect the road before the Creasy Springs curve is eliminated.
Kievit worries about the increase in traffic — especially trucks and construction vehicles from the Vanderveen subdivision — using Prairie Lane as a shortcut and navigating the curve on Creasy Springs.
“We don’t need more people almost getting hit getting out there,” she said.
City Manager Bill Watkins made an agreement with the neighbors that Prairie Lane wouldn’t be connected until a majority of the neighbors agreed to it. The city is sticking by that promise.
“In this situation, the city needs to serve as a mediator,” Assistant City Manager Tony St. Romaine said. “You can only do so much with e-mail. The only true way to gauge community support for this connection is to have a sit-down, face-to-face meeting.”
St. Romaine hopes to arrange a meeting in the next month with the neighborhood in coordination with an information session about the new fire station. He said the connection wouldn’t be expensive or take much time, and could be done by the end of the year — if a “very clear majority” of the neighbors give the go-ahead.
“We’re not going to spend needless dollars for something most people won’t support,” he said.
As for the Creasy Springs project, residents will have to wait. The project was last estimated to cost $9 million — money the city doesn’t have. The project wasn’t included in a 2005 list of street work to be funded by a quarter-cent capital improvements sales tax. A preliminary alignment study has been done but hasn’t been presented to the City Council, and the city has purchased one property on the curve to preserve the alignment.
Some residents, including Bossaller, think the needs are too great to wait.
“It’s gonna happen anyway,” Bossaller said. “It’s a timing issue. Why take a chance with all problems when it’s going to happen in time?”