By NEMS Daily Journal
Tupelo’s traffic “rush hours” don’t fit the standard definition of widespread street gridlock for peak vehicle volume, but several patterns are easily identified every day, including before school begins in early morning and in the 2:30 p.m.- 3:30 p.m. span when both students of driving age and parents picking up children pour into streets.
Traffic flow at Tupelo High School, with more than 2,000 students, plus faculty and staff members, becomes problematic for outbound traffic headed south on Cliff Gookin Boulevard. An interchange built when the high school was under construction in the early 1990s separates traffic on two levels, but exiting the campus requires merging into the main lanes in both directions.
The mix of congestion, non-student vehicles exceeding the speed limit on Cliff Gookin, and a merge lane that is deemed too short for safe entry to the main street is correctable by lengthening the lane, as city officials discussed earlier this week.
A lengthened southbound merge lane would provide more pavement and more time for campus traffic to join the main flow.
Safety is a big consideration because the student drivers are all relatively inexperienced and don’t drive as decisively as longtime drivers in the same situation.
Under discussion is a $90,000 lane extension that would, in effect, create a longer third lane southbound for outbound campus traffic for a short distance, but long enough for smoother merging. The northbound merge lane is not as problematic.
Other choices, like limiting the number of student vehicles by some formula or rule not already used, might seem simpler, but students, like adults, are creatures of the car culture.
Much has changed with Cliff Gookin since the interchange and the high school were built. The road has been widened and the traffic flow is heavier. The THS enrollment has grown and with it the number of cars on campus has grown.
The original reason for building the interchange instead of having a less expensive signal-controlled grade intersection was to keep traffic moving on Cliff Gookin. It was and remains a heavily used route for commercial traffic and commuters going to and from jobs in Tupelo and the industrial areas in south Tupelo and Verona.
The traffic situation did not develop overnight, and even a relatively minor construction project will take time.
We hope the City Council, when finally reviewing its capital improvements budget citywide for the 2013 budget year, gives the proposed lane extension serious, informed consideration.
The projected cost, $90,000, is not pocket change, but the larger issue is safety.