Wednesday, July 25, 2007

TOP STORY >>Battling bad traffic together

Leader staff writer

It’s common knowledge that Cabot’s growth is because of its schools, and so is the worst of its traffic problems. But the city and the school district have never worked together on traffic issues – until now.

Last week, representatives from the city and the school district got together for a four-hour workshop on improving the traffic flow around the schools and agreed upon some measures that might help. The changes include closing some schools to left turns, redirecting traffic, additional striping, additional signs, and police officers on overtime directing traffic for two or three weeks after school starts.

“The more we whittle away at it the better the traffic will be,” Mayor Eddie Joe Williams told those as-sembled for the workshop.

He said this week that after talking to school officials about the traffic flow around Magness Creek Elementary, he has asked the highway department to consider adding a turn lane on Highway 5 in front of the school. And so far, the answer hasn’t been “no.”

Williams says the biggest impact on traffic and the smallest cost will be the changes at Middle School South, where left turns will be banned. At Southside Elementary, a larger loading pad will be built for parents picking up their children and staging will be in the neighborhood.

Alderman Teri Meissner, who attended the workshop, expressed concern about parents lining up in neighborhoods to pick up their children. The people who live there will disapprove, she said.

But Williams said school traffic in neighborhoods is inevitable.

“The dilemma is Cabot is that everybody wants to buy a house in a neighborhood with a school,” he said. “If we build a school, three subdivisions are going to pop up around it.”

Dr. Tony Thurman, school superintendent, said the biggest traffic problem is at the high school where 800 students, 300 employees and 86 buses all try to leave at the same time. The school has tried to alleviate the problem by using a school employee to stop traffic on Highway 38 to let cars out of the parking lot. The job is dangerous and the man wanted to quit last term, Thurman said, but agreed to stay one more year.

The city proposes a right turn only off Bellamy onto Highway 38 for school traffic. Also a new traffic light will go up this school term at the intersection of Highway 38 and Highway 39. Congestion will likely be worse during the installation of the new signal, but the mayor told school officials that it would be worth the trouble because it will be synchronized with other signals in the city. The existing signal is not synchronized with any other signal, he said.

The booklet that participants in the workshop received contained two pages drafted by the school districts titled “Traffic Concerns around Cabot Schools.” Although the workshop was amicable, the school district is concerned that the railroad overpass set for construction this year and the closing of Polk Street will be problematic.

The section on the high school says in part, “Although the traffic is extremely heavy in this area, it flows relatively smoothly with the school paying for persons to direct the traffic. The problem of parents leaving Junior High North will get much worse when the new bypass is finished and Polk Street is closed.

“There is a lot of exiting traffic in the afternoon that currently turns west on Polk Street that will have to turn toward Highway 38 and turn left into the student traffic to get to the new bypass.”

Williams said this week that Polk Street was identified about 10 years ago as one of the most dangerous railroad crossings in the state. Closing it was the only way the city could get funding for the railroad overpass, so it will close. “I don’t think the traffic will be worse, I think it will be a realignment,” he said, adding that it will be more than a year before the overpass is completed and Polk Street is closed.