It's a self-inflicted problem, and two years after new start times created traffic congestion around two campuses, school officials seem no closer to solving traffic woes than when they first began.
Changing school start times was initially proposed as a cost saving measure. With high school and middle school classes beginning at 7:50, bus drivers could put some middle and high school pupils on the same bus and only run two routes - double-track - instead of three. When it first was proposed, school officials said the changes would save the school system $350,000 a year - most of the savings from reducing drivers' pay.
Two years later, $4,920 has been thrown at fixing the traffic problems. If anything, it's getting worse instead of better - especially around Greenbrier and Lakeside school complexes.
The streets around Greenbrier are not only receiving traffic in from Washington Road, but also from the Riverwood residential development. Within the subdivision, houses on both sides of the dead-end road leading to the schools are popping up like mushrooms after a spring rain. When fully developed, Riverwood could have about 1,200 houses, said Bill Boatman, of Meybohm Realty. The developers, however, are considering a second entrance off Washington Road which would help alleviate some congestion to and from the schools.
Meanwhile, school officials have paid engineers to solve their problems around Lakeside. One solution proposed was a bridge across Reed Creek from Clark Pointe Drive to the Lakeside campus, but even that idea was only expected to detour about 100 or so cars. Ultimately, plans for the bridge were nixed when county officials overlaid their requirements, making the project too expensive to be feasible.
Lakeside parents Debby and Marc Balcer have been pushing school officials to solve these problems.
"Traffic is still horrendous, and we still worry there is going to be a traffic accident and they won't be able to get an ambulance to a child," ebby Balcer said.
The Balcer family, which has a senior at Lakeside High and an eighth grader at Lakeside Middle, said although they live only five minutes from the school, "It can still take a half hour to get your child to school and get back to the house."
Columbia County Director of Construction and Maintenance Kevin Lear said he is working with the Department of Transportation on road widening plans for Washington Road, but those plans are at least four years away from reality.
A more immediate project which should help relieve congestion at Greenbrier is the extension of the William Few Parkway to Hardy-McManus Road, a project that is two to three years down the road, Lear said.
"The Lakeside school problem has been looked at by our staff and the second entrance is still on the table. As far as traffic flow, we did a study and there is the possibility we might put a traffic signal at Evans-to-Locks Road, and it could also be an intersection improvement we're looking at too."
Lear admits a light at Evans-to-Locks won't do much to improve drop-off times at the school , but it would do a lot to alleviate traffic congestion in that area. Now those motorist trying to turn left off Blue Ridge onto Evans-to-Locks in peak traffic times are backing up traffic.
Lear said an unscientific, one-time evaluation by his department found that to drive from Clark Pointe Road to the drop-off point at Lakeside during peek morning traffic only took 11 minutes.
"I'm not saying that's acceptable, but it may appear to be longer than it is to most people," he said.
Columbia County School Superintendent Tommy Price admits its a problem which has remained largely unsolved.
"The only two things I see are to try to separate times more and encourage the use of our transportation system and our walkways," Price said.
Start times between middle and high schools will be staggered slightly this coming year by 10 to 12 minutes - a solution that would still allow pupils to ride the same bus, but which would distribute the traffic flow.
A possible second entrance on the east side of the Lakeside complex will be at the whim of developers as more area neighborhoods are established, Price said.
"But we are talking about several years at best," he said.
School Board Chairman Wayne Bridges said the calls about this problem ebb and flow.
"At the beginning of the school year, the phone calls are concentrated on that, but then people learn to accept it," Bridges said. "They realize there are greater things to worry about."
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