Archive for Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Traffic snarls prompt action from city

April 19, 2006

The cars start stacking up about 2:45 p.m. every school day. And when classes are dismissed 15 minutes later at Tonganoxie Elementary School, local drivers know it's an area to avoid.

So last week, Tonganoxie City Council members agreed to help solve the problem, starting next August.

Bob Koontz, maintenance director for the school district, told council members that traffic tie-ups can be severe at Second Street and U.S. Highway 24-40. Most of the problems are caused by motorists on Second Street wanting to turn left or cross the highway.

School buses often get caught in the traffic, delaying them as long as 15 mintues, Koontz said. And that causes problems because after buses leave the elementary school, they head to the junior high to pick up additional students.

"I have about 846 kids trying to leave the school within three minutes of each other," Koontz said.

Koontz recommended that a traffic sign be placed at the northeast corner of Second and 24-40 stating cars could make only right turns during a specific time on school days.

After considerable discussion, Mayor Dave Taylor asked whether a sign could be put at the corner temporarily -- to determine whether it has the intended effect.

Police Chief Kenny Carpenter said he had the authority to place any traffic sign in the city for 60 days. Council members agreed that would be a good trial period.

"And if we have a problem, we can take it down," Carpenter said.

The sign will be installed at the corner when school starts in August. The right-turn-only rule will be in effect from 3 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. school days.

For the remainder of the school year, though, traffic problems will continue.

Last Thursday, Donna Drinnon, a crossing guard at the intersection, said traffic flow is a constant battle at Second and 24-40.

"It gets real hard to get the buses out," said Drinnon, a crossing guard for eight years.

Each afternoon, students pile onto 15 buses that are parked on Church Street, a one-way street on the west side of the elementary school. Church Street traffic heads north, while Shawnee Street -- which runs in front of the school -- is a one-way, southbound street.

At the council meeting, the mayor asked whether more parking on Shawnee and Church would help. And he asked if the direction of the two one-way streets could be switched.

If Church traffic headed south, Taylor said, buses could turn right onto Fourth and then right again onto 24-40 at the traffic light.

Koontz, though, noted that the current one-way direction on Church allows bus doors to swing open right to the curb for students.

Council member Jim Truesdell said BG Consultants, the city's engineering firm, should evaluate traffic issues at the school, but Taylor sharply disagreed.

"I don't think we need to," Taylor said.

In January, the elementary school will become less crowded when older students move into the new middle school on Washington Street. Fifth- and sixth-graders will join seventh- and eighth-graders at the school.

"I think some of it will fix itself next year," Carpenter said about the elementary school. "The biggest problem is there's too many kids going there, and not enough parking, not enough roadway."

Koontz, who also is a part-time police officer, said the new school would alleviate some traffic issues at the elementary school, but buses still will have schedules to meet and must stop at the middle school and junior high.

As for Second and 24-40, Drinnon said the intersection needs more than a traffic sign. Flashing beacons warn drivers the speed limit on 24-40 near the intersection is 20 mph from 7:30 a.m. to 8:30 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. to 3:30 p.m.

But Drinnon said drivers don't always abide the reduced speed. She believes more than a sign is needed to solve the problems at the intersection.

"We need some kind of stoplight," she said.

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