"Expect delays" with back to school traffic

TUPELO – One of the toughest things during the first week of school is actually getting to school.
Today is the first day of school for students in the Lee County school district, while Tupelo schools open Aug. 14. And as happens every year, traffic will be heavy and hectic around the schools.
Saltillo Primary School probably has the most traffic problems and the most dangerous of all the school zones, according to county officials.
Because the school is off Highway 45, the 65 mph speed limit adds an element of danger the other schools in the county don’t have. That’s why for at least today, traffic on the southbound and northbound lanes will be reduced to one lane from 6:30 a.m. to 9 a.m. The Mississippi Department of Transportation approved the lane closings.
Saltillo Assistant Police Chief Scotty Clark said making the highway single lanes will slow traffic for a few hours, but it will make travel safer.
“Drivers can definitely expect delays when traveling on 45 near the primary school Thursday,” said Clark. “We’re in a unique situation with the school being directly off 45 where the traffic flows a lot faster. The only way to slow it down and assure the safety of all the motorists is for us to close down a lane. It will be inconvenient for a lot of people, but it will cut down on a lot of potential problems.”
The one lane will start at the Euclatubba Road intersection on the south side of the highway and end at the primary school exit on the north side.
Lee County Schools Superintendent Mike Scott said most traffic problems in the county come from Saltillo Primary School, Saltillo Elementary School and Mooreville Elementary School. Scott said he doesn’t anticipate any major setbacks.
Lee County Sheriff Jim Johnson said most of his traffic problems in the county will come from the Shannon Primary School, which is off Highway 45 extended, a four-lane highway.
He said extra deputies, along with school resource officers, will be at the school. Johnson said he’s more concerned about traffic during pick-up time at the schools than anything else.
“When dropping kids off, parents just pull up and let them out at the schools. But when they go to pick them up they have to wait for that child to actually get into the car,” Johnson said. “If the person in the car in front of you doesn’t have their child then you’re just stuck until they get there. That’s why parents need to make sure they know where to pick their children up from and make sure the children know what they are driving.”
Tupelo Police Maj. Jackie Clayton, who heads the patrol division, said for as long as he can remember, first-day school congestion has been a problem.
“People get in a hurry and that’s when problems happen,” said Clayton. “You have to give yourself adequate time during the first week of school, especially the first day. People have to realize traffic is going to be pretty bad around the schools and getting upset is not going to make it move any faster. Patience is going to be the most important thing.”
Clayton said most of the traffic woes will be around the lower elementary schools, where parents are dropping off children for the first time. Not knowing the routine is a problem first-time parents face.
“Parents usually take their younger children to school the first couple of weeks to get themselves and the children comfortable with the process,” said Clayton. “After a while they get used to the routine and things die down, but for the first couple of weeks the elementary schools are going to be filed with new parents traffic.”
Because Tupelo has so many schools, officers will be spread out all over the city monitoring traffic. The school resource officers will handle the bulk of the responsibility, but Clayton said patrol units will assist.

Contact Danza Johnson at (662) 678-1583 or danza.johnson@djournal.com.

Danza Johnson/NEMS Daily Journal