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LHS traffic on Hickory Ridge Road stirs controversy
Aug 10, 2012 12:00 am
At the Monday evening meeting of the Wilson County School Board, board member Greg Lasater said he'd seen Director Mike Davis out directing traffic at the new Lebanon High School. By Tuesday afternoon, it seems not everyone is happy with where he has been directing it.
Lebanon Police Chief Scott Bowen said he has been fielding calls from people who are not happy that Davis has been directing school traffic onto Hickory Ridge Road via a gate that many residents of that neighborhood had understood would not be used by school traffic.
"Mr. Davis took upon himself to open the gate onto Hickory Ridge Road and let cars onto Hickory Ridge Road yesterday," he said, adding that school officials had promised not to use that road during the planning phase of the LHS project. "They were told if they were going to put traffic out on Hickory Ridge Road it has to be improved. It's a two lane road in a neighborhood. That gate is right past a curve, the most dangerous part of the road."
The minutes of the March 23, 2008, Lebanon Municipal Regional Planning Commission show that the commission's approval of the school's site plan was dependent on that exit being used for emergencies only and any changes to that plan would only be with the approval of city officials.
In those minutes, "City Planner, Magi Tilton, explained that the access driveway would be gated and use for emergency purposes only." The minutes also reported "all voting aye to approve site plan subject to the following conditions:
1. An emergency, gated access point shall be provided in coordination between the applicant and City of Lebanon."
Planning Commissioner Pam Black was on the commission in 2008 when the LHS site plan was approved. She confirmed that the commission never intended for school traffic to use Hickory Ridge Road.
"That is correct," she said. "We were adamant about it. The only reason we even let them put a gate there was in case of an emergency."
Black said there was nothing ambiguous about school officials agreeing to not use the gate for school traffic.
"We questioned them up and down, it was never supposed to be used," Black added. "We would have turned it down it if they were going to use that gate."
Bowen said residents on Hickory Ridge Road remember those assurances and have been making their displeasure known.
"The city and the police department have been inundated with calls. The residents over there are furious because they were promised that they weren't going to flood that neighborhood and cause issues over there," Bowen explained. "Hopefully, it won't happen again. That road cannot handle the additional traffic."
At Monday's school board meeting, Davis said the new LHS opened with few problems except "occasional traffic issues" and that there would be a traffic study done in the next week to determine if any changes were needed to alleviate traffic problems.
Speaking Wednesday, Davis said he hopes people will be patient while the system works out the kinks with traffic flow at the new school.
"We're trying. We're doing a traffic study this week to determine the best possible traffic patterns for that piece of property," he said. "They are going to count all the traffic coming in and out and the direction it's going. We're expecting them to give us a report of how we can best have ingress and egress from the site."
He added that there was a lot more traffic at the new school than anyone had foreseen and that making adjustments was a question of keeping everyone as safe as possible.
"We had a pretty high volume of traffic that we could not have anticipated," Davis noted. "We do not want the traffic backing up on South Hartmann, that could create an unsafe environment for everybody."
At this point, the traffic plan is dependent on what the engineers have to say.
"If we have to use that back gate, then we'll have to do that — if that comes back to be the safest way to do that," he said. "They have a couple of other proposals about how we can reroute the traffic as it comes in so we don't have to go to the back gate at all. They will meet with me next Tuesday."
Davis hopes that a lot of the traffic volume will dissipate over time.
"The traffic may take care of itself. We'd like for the students to be on the school buses. The volume of traffic we're experiencing at this site is a great deal more than we had at the old LHS, maybe because we'd didn't have parking spaces for people," he added. "We didn't have this kind of volume at the old building."
He said using Hickory Ridge Road is not what he wants to do anyway.
"We'll use it if we have to, but that will be a last resort," he said, noting that having that gate open "compromises access to the site," and is not the way it was designed. "We may take some speed bumps out so traffic can flow more smoothly and when we change the pattern on the site itself it'll take care of itself. We had this same problem at Mt. Juliet High School."
He hopes everyone will give the system time to solve the problem to everyone's satisfaction.
"Be patient, we don't want to use that gate anymore than they want us to use that gate," Davis concluded.
Bowen didn't mince words over what he sees as a safety issue.
"I met with the city attorney today and we know from talking to our engineering staff that road is not safe to allow that traffic on it. They (school officials) were told that in the beginning," Bowen said Wednesday. "We sent a police officer out there today. His responsibility was, if the gate was open again, we were going to block traffic coming out. Our job is the safety and the welfare of the citizens and we know that road can't safely handle that traffic."
He also takes exception to school officials promising one thing and, in his view, breaking that promise.
"They made a promise that they wouldn't do it and Mike Davis made a decision to do it anyway," Bowen said, adding that the gate will remain closed even if he has to go to court to see to it.
"We will not allow that to happen. I will put an officer there,' he concluded. "That road was not made to handle that traffic. It's a dangerous situation. If we have to go as far as filing paperwork and going to court to stop it, we'll do that."
Wednesday afternoon the gate was closed as students left school for the day.
Staff writer Mary Hinds may be reached at 444-3952, ext. 45 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org