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New school openings generate traffic projects

By DAVID TEWES
June 5, 2010 at 1:05 a.m.

Looking across Nursery Drive from the Tropical Acres neighborhood, motorists can get a glimpse of what they will face as they negotiate a new route to the Victoria West High School and Cade Intermediate School campuses. Several stop signs, a railroad crossing, and  north and southbound traffic on U.S. Highway 87 will present  challenges for the new school year, which begins in August.

Where does the money come from?

The state is paying for the cost of the improvements with a $2 million stimulus grant from the Metropolitan Planning Organization.

The school work is part of a larger project that includes resurfacing Main Street from Rio Grande Street to just north of the West High School. Traffic signals will also be installed at Main and Conti Lane.

"These projects had already been identified as needs for the schools as far as the signal locations and the turn lanes," said Randy Bena, with the Texas Department of Transportation. "As far as the resurfacing project goes, that was already planned, also."

Concern about the safe flow of traffic at Victoria's two new high schools and one of the middle schools has prompted a flurry of construction to reduce problems.

"I think we will be as prepared as we can be, right now," said Ray Miller with the Metropolitan Planning Organization, which coordinates transportation projects. "There's not much else that can be done until we see what the traffic patterns will be at both locations."

He said very rough estimates indicate the East High School on Mockingbird Lane will generate about 1,800 trips a day based on projected enrollment.

It's estimated the West High School and nearby middle high school on U.S. 87 just north of the Zac Lentz Parkway will generate a total of about 3,400 trips a day. The starting times for the schools will be staggered about 30 minutes.

The East High School entrance and exit is on Mockingbird Lane.

Lynn Short, Victoria's public works director, said most schools have traffic congestion for short periods and the new schools will probably be no different.

But he said the city has no plans to alter Mockingbird for the additional traffic. "I don't know what we would do to improve it, for one thing."

Randy Bena, with the Texas Department of Transportation, said he expects some of the traffic from the east campus to end up on Zac Lentz Parkway. He said John Stockbauer Drive is already congested in the mornings with people going to school and work.

"The entrance to the high school is very close to the loop," he said. "We feel like more people will try to use the loop because it's a larger facility and a little easier movement."

That's why the state plans to increase the length and width of the right-turn lane for southbound traffic on the loop for drivers turning onto Mockingbird. It's also increasing the length and width of the left-turn lane from the the loop to Mockingbird.

Traffic signals will be installed at Mockingbird and the loop in June to control traffic flow. "Without a traffic signal, traffic would have to wait to cross in front of through traffic and that would, of course, create a bottleneck," Bena said.

Traffic control costs about $175,000 to $200,000 each.

Construction of an overpass at the intersection to replace the traffic signals is scheduled to begin in 2011 and should be finished in 18 to 24 months.

The entrance and exit for the west campus will be on U.S. 87.

That's why the state will widen the right-turn lane on southbound U.S. 87 going into the school. It will also provide an acceleration lane from the driveway heading south toward Victoria.

Once U.S. 87 is resurfaced, the state will install traffic signals and provide a dual left-turn lane for northbound traffic going into the school. The dual left-turn lane is to keep traffic from stacking up.

The traffic signals will be installed in June.

County Commissioner Kevin Janak, whose precinct includes the west campus, said he'd like to see at least one other improvement.

"I would hope to see at least a bus entrance or bus exit onto the access road on Zac Lentz Parkway," he said. "I think they are looking at that."

He said in the meantime he has tried to anticipate how traffic patterns will develop on county roads and widen intersections to move traffic more safely.

Those intersections include Parsons Road at Nursery Drive, Haynes Road at Parsons, and Haynes at Bianci Drive. Janak said several property owners donated land so he could widen the intersections.

"If they wouldn't have donated that property, we wouldn't have been able to do it," he said.

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