Monday, January 09, 2012

TOP STORY >> LRAFB backs up traffic

Leader staff writer

It wasn’t the billboard moratorium that took up most of the Jacksonville City Council’s time Thursday night. It was all the complaints the council and city received Wednesday morning when the air base initiated a new security-check system and had traffic blocked, stopped and parked from the front gate, down Vandenberg Boulevard, up the frontage road, back up Toneyville Road and Hwy. 67/167 almost to Cabot.

Delays for the same reason at the back gate had Hwy. 107 blocked north and south for most of the morning.

I live just a mile from work,” lamented Alderman Aaron Robinson, “and it took me an hour to get to work that morning.”

Mayor Gary Fletcher said the first complaint call came from his brother, who was stuck in the middle, and the mayor was inundated with calls once he got to the office.

He said the city’s director of administration, Jim Durham, took pictures of the stack up. “I wish we had a helicopter available to get a good aerial view of the backup,” the mayor said.

He plans to use the pictures and list of complaints when he meets with the Highway Department soon in his efforts to get an interchange at the nearby Coffelt Crossing.

“Even if we had just the exits and entrance ramps a lot of people would have been able to get on Hwy. 67/167 and bypass the base delays,” the mayor said.

Robinson asked for more communication and coordination and asked why more police weren’t out there. He was told they were there, but the traffic backed up so quickly and so densely that there wasn’t much they could do.

Col. Mike Minihan, 19th Airlift Wing commander, apologized to the mayor for the problems and modified the implementation of the system. The colonel also put a letter on the air base’s Facebook page.

“On Wednesday,” the colonel wrote, “we implemented a mandatory new security measure for entry onto the base. Despite our best efforts to make this as painless as possible, enormous delays occurred…please accept my apologies.”

He went on to write, “Please know my team has the best interests of the base and the community in mind. The last thing we want to do is cause delays. My priorities are to ensure the mission and security of the base, ensure the safety of those traveling onto and around the base, be a good neighbor to our community and expedite travel onto the base without compromising security.”

The mayor said he had a telephone conference call Friday afternoon with Police Chief Gary Sipes and base officials. “I believe all the kinks have been worked out, and there might be some minor delays and backups, but the worst is over,” Fletcher said.

Minihan, the mayor said, will be writing a letter for the mayor to take to the Highway Department explaining the backup issues and pushing for the Coffelt Crossing or other help.