Thursday, January 9, 2003

Cape studies high school traffic jam

Published in the Current

Cape officials and residents are again addressing the issue of traffic at the high school entrance, but this time are assembling a team of people to study the problem and recommend a solution.

In some ways, it’s the same old story. Each morning for years, from 7:25 to 7:40 a.m., and each afternoon, from 1:55 to 2:10 p.m., traffic backs up around the intersection leading to Cape Elizabeth High School.

“It’s an old problem,” said Beth Currier, vice president of the High School Parents Association. The group is drafting a letter to Police Chief Neil Williams asking for his department’s help with the problem.

But Williams, Town Manager Mike McGovern and school Superintendent Tom Forcella are already on the case.

A “steering committee” is being formed, Williams said, “to look at the problem and come up with any suggestions.” A final recommendation, he said, could be anything from doing nothing to a big change. “Everything’s on the table,” Williams said.

Among the possibilities is the oft-floated idea of having a police officer at the intersection during those two short peak-traffic times.

It has come up before, and Williams has said he doesn’t have the staff to handle that on top of regular duties. Currier recognizes that, but wants to open the dialogue all the same.

“It would help the kids slow down,” she said.

Sometimes there is an officer parked in the Community Services parking lot when school lets out. “When that guy is sitting there, boy do those kids slow down. They stop at the stop sign,” Currier said.

Some parents, she said, have suggested having a parent stand at the intersection, to provide some level of adult supervision. A traffic light also has been mentioned, but was dismissed without much discussion by the parents group, Currier said.

The intersection itself contributes to the problem. Turning to head north on Route 77 is “a tough left anyway,” even when there’s not much traffic, Currier said.

High school principal Jeff Shedd said more direction or a traffic light might help. A big part of the problem for him is “there’s only one way in and one way out,” he said.

More students do have cars than in the past, Shedd said, which increases traffic volume from year to year. It also puts pressure on the school’s parking, but 100 additional spaces in the proposed high school renovation project should alleviate that problem, Shedd said.

Forcella said the traffic problem worsens as the school year progresses and more students get their driver’s licenses.

Parents’ wishes also play into it. “The high school buses in the morning are quite early,” Currier said. Many parents prefer to drop their kids off at school, rather than having them get out the door earlier to make the bus.

Forcella said the group would be made up of two members of the Town Council, two School Board members, a parent, a community member, Williams and Forcella himself.

They will discuss what the problem is in terms of safety at the intersection, traffic tie-ups and the process of entering and leaving the school. “There are a lot of different pieces to this,” Forcella said. And the group will recommend a solution to the Town Council.

From Williams’s perspective, one part of the problem is the confluence of schedules. “Nobody wants to come early,” Williams said. Students who drive want to get to school as close to starting time as possible, while parents
drop off their kids just in the nick of time too.

“Everybody wants to get there at 7:30,” Williams said.