Wheels go 'round - School

Students at Dothan Preparatory Academy board their school buses for the ride home after classes Friday. School and city officials work together to try to fine tune traffic patterns to accommodate parents and buses bringing and taking children to and from schools and other drivers who need a smooth flow of traffic.

There are many people working behind the scenes in the Dothan that keep wheels rolling during school traffic in the mornings and afternoons.

Charles Metzger, City of Dothan Public Works director, said the city has a close relationship with Dothan City schools to work in the best interest of all residents by keeping traffic at bay and getting everyone home safe.

“Each year, especially this year with all the changes, we’re adjusting signal times by time-of-day and what’s going on to try to help move traffic in around Dothan High and Dothan Prep, any other schools,” he said.

Every school year comes with a slew of complaints from drivers struggling to adjust to new drop-off and pick-up times. This year was no different.

“Every school year starts with new parents who haven’t been to those schools yet and so there’s confusion in the first few days – especially the smaller kids in the schools who are being dropped off and their parents want to take them in the first day or two,” Metzger said. “So, we get a lot of calls the first days of schools, saying ‘It’s not working right.’ Well, things have got to start to settle down and once they do, you know, things work out. And if there are changes needed, we work with them.”

A month into Dothan’s new school year, traffic backups have been alleviated inside and out of school campuses, possibly more than in past years. Over the summer, the Dothan City School board passed a new staggered bell schedule based on recommendations from principals, Superintendent Phyllis Edwards, and Transportation Director Jay Bruner.

>> Grades kindergarten through 6: 7:40 a.m. – 2:10 p.m.

>> Grades 7 through 9: 8:30 a.m. – 3:50 p.m.

>> Grade 10 through 12: 8:10 a.m. - 3:10 p.m.

The new schedule, used by many larger Alabama school systems, reduced the number of buses on the road at the same time. At the end of the 2018-2019 school year, there were 76 buses on the road running 154 routes.

With a new start and end times, and five fewer schools – Montana Magnet, Grandview, Cloverdale, Honeysuckle and Carver (still open, but busing is no longer provided) – to bus kids back and forth to, the transportation department has been able to reduce its fleet and number of routes.

Bruner said the department is still transporting the same number of students – roughly 4,500, which is half the estimated population – but with 67 buses running 116 routes.

“Obviously, that’s less congestion, any bus that’s not out on the road and making stops; it’s going to make an improvement to traffic flow, there’s no doubt about that,” Metzger said.

Dothan’s traffic engineering department, under the Public Works umbrella, works proactively to prevent impending problems.

“We make recommendations for how they circulate inside the schools as far as make changes reverse traffic flows and very inside school areas and help stack the cars,” Metzger said. “We want to get the cars off the main road, so that’s a big part of it too.

“The changes that just happened with these two schools, right when they started talking about combining the schools, I told my traffic engineer Tommy Wright that we needed to start looking at what was going to happen at Dothan Prep because it was going to go to a ton of drop-off and buses instead of kids driving over there,” Metzger said.

Using computer modeling, experts assumed at least 600 parents would be coming to drop off their children at the new junior high school. The entrance features two lanes inbound and one outbound lane, allowing cars to come in, loop around the batting cages, drop off students at the front of the gym area, and come back out.

“We designed that road the length that we did trying to get that longer stretch of road coming in off Alice… We wanted to keep traffic issues off Oates Street and off of Selma so we could try to bring them in from that back side,” Metzger said.

Bruner said the city’s help is instrumental in helping get 38 buses off of DPA’s lot in 20 minutes every day.

“That only happens with cooperation that the city has given us with traffic lights,” Bruner said. “The traffic engineering department has reprogrammed a lot of the lights around the city to help with traffic flow.”

The city of Dothan pledged $258,000 to the project, while the board of education paid $100,000 to Wiregrass Construction for laying the road and thermoplastic striping. The Public Works department also constructed storm drains and pipelines near where the road before it was constructed, and helped the transportation department route buses in off Selma Street.

“If the city wouldn’t have – knowing that was going to happen – start designing it and looking at it well before school started and have this built and worked with a contract to get it built, it would have been an entirely different situation with 600 or so parents trying to get in off of Oates Street and everywhere else to drop off and pick up,” Metzger said.

The first week at Dothan Preparatory Academy still caused a headache for many parents using carpool lanes and those commuting to work in the area. The first day, students were still being loaded into cars after 5 p.m. Metzger said the problem mostly had to do with staff coordinating the lines, but Principal Darius McKay and others have worked to cut the carline down closer to 20-30 minutes in the afternoon.

In 2000, engineers helped design traffic flow into the three newly built schools, Hidden Lake, Highlands, and Morris Slingluff Elementary. They also worked to install a traffic signal at the intersection of Prevatt and Beverlye roads near where Hidden Lake was built adjacent to Beverlye Middle School.

“We knew that four-way stop wasn’t going to handle traffic anymore,” Metzger said.

He said the department works closely with the city schools to make recommendation for how traffic should circulate on school campuses and help stack cars in lots.

“We want to get the cars off the main road, so that’s a big part of it too,” he said. “All the schools have their own particular problems, you know, where they’re located. We just try to accommodate them.

“It’s a big task to handle that, there’s no doubt, but we’ve got good people. We’ve got good communication with the school system and with Jay and we help them any way we can.”

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