By Emily Le Coz/NEMS Daily Journal
TUPELO – Inexperienced teen drivers face swift traffic and split-second decisions exiting Tupelo High School onto southbound Cliff Gookin Boulevard every day after school.
It’s a potentially dangerous spot that city leaders may fix with a $90,000 lane extension under consideration for Tupelo’s FY2013 budget.
The area represents a constant source of concern for parents and other drivers, said Tupelo Police Officer Alan Chavers. And it holds potential danger for those with little time behind the wheel.
“Every year we get the same complaints,” he said. “We have places like this everywhere in the city, but I can understand that students who are beginning drivers could have more trouble than a more seasoned driver.”
At issue is the school’s merge lane into southbound traffic.
Motorists leaving the school must enter a two-lane thoroughfare dominated by cars and trucks that, despite a 30-mph speed limit during school hours, sometimes go 55 mph or more.
Merging drivers must enter oncoming traffic quickly, and often from a standstill, forcing them to rapidly increase their speed or put themselves at risk of getting rear-ended by a fast-approaching vehicle.
“When they come up there, it’s either do or die,” said Public Works Director Sid Russell.
City leaders on Tuesday considered a fix to that problem: Extend the school’s merge lane by a few hundred feet into oncoming traffic, essentially creating a temporary third lane on Cliff Gookin for drivers to gain speed and confidence before merging.
“It would be beneficial,” said THS Principal Jason Harris, “especially when the traffic is coming down Cliff Gookin and the traffic starts backing up on the ramp.”
Some 2,000 students attend the high school, Harris said. Many leave in their own vehicles. Others are picked up by parents or school buses. The area becomes quite congested at that time, he said.
The school also has a ramp merging into northbound traffic on Cliff Gookin, but that area doesn’t pose as big of a problem, Russell said.
“The biggest priority would be the south lane,” he said.
Money for the extended merge lane appears in the city’s proposed FY2013 capital project plan. If the City Council approves it, work could start as early as this year. But Russell said he needs to consult school officials first.
“If might be smarter to start next summer” when school is out, he said.