Traffic back-ups out of county hands

Published 5:00 am Tuesday, May 13, 2008

The morning slow-down on Highway 550 created by the trafficentering and exiting Loyd Star Attendance Center every morning maybe the source of frustration for some commuters heading east intoBrookhaven, but officials say patience is a virtue.

There is little that can be done to alleviate the trafficsituation, which can form the long lines between 7:30 a.m. and 8a.m. as parents forsake the use of the school bus and bring theirchildren to Loyd Star. Possible suggestions posed to the problem,such as the addition of a turning lane or an eastbound passinglane, or a traffic light, are out of the county’s hands, saidDistrict Five Supervisors Gary Walker.

Any work done to Highway 550 – a state highway – would have tobe done by the Mississippi Department of Transportation, Walkersaid.

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“Possibly, a solution could be putting in a turning lane or apassing lane and widening the road, but we can’t do anything aboutit,” he said. “If it was a county road, we could do something, butthe DOT would have to handle this problem.”

Walker said he is aware of the rumblings of some localcommuters, who complain that the morning back-up is making themlate for work in Brookhaven. The only solution he could offer,however, is one unfriendly to those who despair at the sound oftheir alarm clocks.

“You’ve just got to make a little plan in the mornings – leaveearly,” he said. “I know it’s there, it’s happening, and I’ve beenheld up in it, too – I’ve just had to slow down and wait.”

The only action keeping the Loyd Star traffic situation fromturning into a demolition derby is the placement of Lincoln CountySheriff’s Department deputies on the scene every morning, who, bytheir very presence, help to form the lines of cars that havesparked the complaints.

But sheriff Steve Rushing said the presence of the deputies wasto ensure safety, not speed.

“Our main goal is to get people safely in and out of theschools,” he said. “We’re out on Highway 550 trying to slow thetraffic down and help vehicles get in and out.”

Rushing said the plan to have a deputy at the school was drawnup years ago, and the department assists all county schools withmorning traffic except Bogue Chitto Attendance Center.

However, the sheriff’s department did not draw up the routes forthe Loyd Star’s parent drop-off.

“The school sets up the way traffic comes in and out – we’rebasically just out there assisting the school,” Rushing said. “Wehelp with the traffic based on what the schools ask for.”

Loyd Star Elementary School Assistant Principal Robin Caseadmitted that the parent drop-off plan is largely to blame forcreating the traffic back-up in front of the school every morning,but impatient commuters can expect no sweeping changes from theschool. As far as Loyd Star is concerned, the drop-off planworks.

“Our main concern here is that the children are at school ontime,” Case said. “We haven’t had any tardies (from the traffic),and with no tardies, that’s a good indication that things areflowing smoothly on our end.”

Case said there is a large volume of traffic from people whoelect to use the parent pick-up, but she “wouldn’t say it’sexcessive.” There are about 10 or 15 minutes of “crunch time”created every morning on Highway 550, but, as it is only a two-laneroad, some back-up is unavoidable, she said.

The school already offers its only means of easing the trafficsituation – school buses.

LCSD Deputy Jonathon Alford, who is often in charge ofcontrolling traffic in front of Loyd Star, said that if morestudents rode the bus in the mornings, the traffic situation wouldalmost fix itself. He said often the longest back-ups in front ofthe school are not those trying to squeeze through and intoBrookhaven, but those headed west to bring their children toschool.

Even so, Alford is not convinced that there is a problem in thefirst place.

“It’s not that bad out here,” he said. “They back up a littlebit sometimes, but we work to get ’em in and out of here. It’snever really that bad of a back-up – I don’t get anycomplaints.”

Alford is also wary of over-correcting the problem. He advisedagainst the installation of an eastbound passing lane, citing thedangers of speeding through the school zone and the wide turns madeby buses.

“Even if they put in a turning lane or a passing lane, we’dstill have to have an officer out here to stop traffic,” he said.”Without an officer, it would open up the opportunity to have anaccident.”

Alford said the addition of a caution light at Jackson-LibertyDrive – a months-old inquiry made to MDOT by Walker – would alsocomplicate the matter.

“If they put up a caution light there, it would help out withthat intersection, but it would complicate school traffic,” hesaid. “We’ll have cars backed up in the eastbound lane.”

Even if MDOT decided to look into Loyd Star’s morning trafficsituation, the inquiry would not result in an automatic fix. MDOTProject Engineer Darrell Broome said an extensive evaluation of thearea of concern would have to be carried out to determine the bestoption for the highway.

“If there’s a request to look at a location for safety reasons,we’ll schedule for a traffic engineer to take a look at it,” hesaid. “There are certain requirements to be able to put anythingin, whether it’s a stop sign or a turning lane. Everything is basedon a standard criteria used nationwide.”

Broome said official requests for MDOT’s attention to an areacan be conveyed to the district seven office at (601) 684-2111. Anycitizen can put in the request, Broome said, but as some issuesrequire local government involvement, MDOT prefers requests to comefrom the city or county involved to “make sure they’re in theloop.”

“When we get a request, we look at it,” Broome said. “We may endup going in to do a count to determine what is necessary. Sometimeswe go out and it’s obvious that something minor can be done,sometimes it requires a traffic study to determine what isfeasible.”

Broome said school zone safety issues receive special attentionfrom the highway department, but widening a state highway toinstall a third lane is not “minor.” He said traffic engineerswould have to study traffic movements and volumes – a highway hasto meet certain counts to necessitate a project.

“We have to stretch the tax dollars as far as we can to get themost dangerous situations resolved,” Broome said.