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DOT won’t give Gainesville the green light at new school site

POSTED: December 23, 2008 5:00 a.m.

Gainesville officials say they will install a new red light by the time the new Gainesville Middle School opens in August, but the Georgia Department of Transportation begs to differ.

The DOT has twice denied a permit that would allow the city to build a traffic signal at the intersection of Jesse Jewell Parkway and Community Way, the road leading to the Frances Meadows Aquatic and Community Center and the future Gainesville Middle School.

The city estimates that when the school opens, it will bring nearly 800 more vehicles to the intersection during the morning rush hour. But the DOT does not grant permits based on estimated traffic volumes, said Teri Pope, communications officer for the Gainesville region of the department.

The DOT also has denied a permit for the city to build a traffic signal at the intersection of Queen City Parkway and Summit Street for the same reason. The city says the signal will be needed when its public safety facility is built.

Gainesville Traffic Engineer Dee Taylor conducted the traffic study on the intersections. He says the traffic at both the intersections will meet the requirements once the middle school opens and the city’s public safety facility is built.

The DOT says the building’s not there yet, and the traffic signal will not be there until the need exists.

Transportation officials have told the city to wait until Gainesville Middle School opens to run the traffic study and apply for the signal permit.

City officials say that the wait will make the traffic signal come too late.

Interim City Manager Kip Padgett told state legislators in a meeting last week that the city needs that traffic signal to be up and running at the Jesse Jewell intersection on the first day of classes.

"In our opinion, it’s too late to wait for a traffic light until after school’s in session," said Padgett. "Then you’re going to have a nightmare."

Doing it the DOT’s way — with Taylor running the traffic study again on the first day of school and re-applying for the signal permit — could keep the city from getting a warranted traffic signal at the intersection for five months after the school year begins, Taylor said.

"That’s the difference in waiting and not waiting," he said.

In the past, DOT would give permits for traffic signals based on expected traffic volumes. But when numerous projects did not pan out to meet the traffic volumes that had been projected —and traffic signals already had been installed for the projected traffic volumes — the DOT nixed that policy, Taylor said.

"They’ve gotten bit a lot statewide on situations like that," Taylor said.

The city’s pleas are not for retail developments that may or may not build out fully or be subject to the mercy of the economy, however. They are for public projects that the city says will increase traffic volumes.

"This is a city property that’s going to happen," Taylor said. "This isn’t a couple of discount chains; we’re going to be there for eons."

But Pope says a traffic signal is not the best way to move school traffic.

The most efficient way to move traffic at a school intersection is with a law enforcement officer who can direct traffic, she said.

"When you have a traffic signal there it’s only going to let people out of the school for 60 to 90 seconds at a time," Pope said. "That is not an efficient way to empty a parking lot.

"... The safest way to do that when you have large volumes of people coming at one time and leaving at one time ... is to have a law enforcement officer do it himself."

Taylor counters that since Community Way also provides access to the aquatic center, the traffic volumes at the intersection will be sustained for eight hours once the school opens and not merely relegated to a morning and an afternoon rush.

"I don’t know if you can put (a deputy) out there all the time," he said.


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