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New light eases traffic and parents
Intersection for new middle school should have traffic light working by Wednesday
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A traffic light wasn’t a given thing, even though it sat above a busy four-lane road at the entrance to a community center and future middle school.

As of December, the Georgia Department of Transportation had twice denied a permit that would have allowed the city to build the signal at Jesse Jewell Parkway and Community Way.

The intersection serves as the entrance to the Frances Meadows Aquatic and Community Center and Gainesville Middle School, which opens Tuesday.

But transportation officials later changed their minds.

Now, a traffic light graces the intersection and is set to be operational by Wednesday.

At one point, the city had estimated that when the school opens, it would bring nearly 800 more vehicles to the intersection during the morning rush hour.

That wasn’t sufficient data for the DOT.

"We must have actual numbers, not projections," said Teri Pope, spokeswoman for the DOT’s Gainesville region.

Once the Frances Meadows center opened "and we had factual, actual numbers — not projections — the city did another study," Pope said. "That study met the requirements and (the light) is going up."

The Frances Meadows center opened in 2008.

Neither Gainesville Traffic Engineer Dee Taylor or City Manager Kip Padgett could be reached for comment Monday.

In the past, the DOT would give permits for traffic signals based on expected traffic volumes, Taylor said in an earlier interview.

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.

Traffic signals, Pope said, also must meet federal requirements based on the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices.

"It has all the federal rules (and) regulations for everything from how many letters and lines can go on a sign on the interstate to the sizes of signs to the minimum requirements for traffic signals," she said. "All states use (the document)."

Traffic is a particular concern at Gainesville Middle, which is expected to house some 1,300 students and is across from New Holland Core Knowledge Academy, another school in the Gainesville system.

Jerry Castleberry, transportation director for Gainesville schools, has said he believes traffic problems will be eased, however, by an "east side-west side" arrangement the system is using this year for Gainesville Middle and Gainesville High students.

"If we’ve got buses picking up ... in the Athens Highway area in the afternoon, they will come to the middle school first because they are already on that side of town," Castleberry said, citing an example of how the routes would work. "And then, buses on the north and west side will go to the high school first."

Under that scenario, "we’ll have half of the buses (at Gainesville Middle) at any particular time," he said.

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