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School, county trying to find ways to prevent traffic jams

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After months of trial and error, one Maple Grove Elementary School parent knows the drill: get to school early, or wait in a long line.

Ann Hornback has to be in line to drop her daughter off at school at 8:30 a.m. — 15 minutes before the doors to Maple Grove Elementary open — because if she waits any longer, she risks sitting in a line of traffic nearly a half-mile long.

The line of eastbound cars running along Whiteland Road is longest between 8:30 and 8:45 a.m. weekday mornings as parents drop their children off at Maple Grove Elementary, and traffic sometimes can stretch as far back as Saddle Club Road almost a half-mile away.

Drivers turning south into the school have a turn lane they can use, but it’s not long enough for all of the school’s traffic. And grassy medians that were added in 2012 make it impossible for people to drive around the traffic jam, Hornback and Walter McMannis said.

McMannis, who takes Whiteland Road to get to work in Whiteland every morning, has been stuck in the line of cars many times.

“You just have to sit there,” Hornback said.

Center Grove school officials began working on a plan to reroute the school’s morning traffic. That solution could include having drivers enter Maple Grove Elementary from an access road off of Saddle Club Road, instead of from Whiteland Road.

But to make that happen Center Grove would need to apply for a waiver from the county highway department because the access road has no acceleration or deceleration lanes, Bargersville fire marshal Kevin Killinger said.

School officials also plan to meet with the county highway department and with parents and school employees to see what other options are available.

“Center Grove is working with the county highway department and the engineer to find a solution to the morning traffic concerns on Whiteland Road in front of Maple Grove Elementary School,” assistant superintendent Bill Long said in an email. “One possible solution may be to extend the turn lane off of Whiteland Road into Maple Grove.

“I plan to meet with Maple Grove’s principal and PTO to see what ideas they may have. Our facilities engineer, Dave Statler, will also be meeting with the highway department.”

The county highway department began an $8 million project in 2012 that widened the two lanes on Whiteland Road and added a median between the two lanes. The entire road project spanned 2½ miles, between State Road 135 and County Road 144. Construction on the road near Maple Grove Elementary was completed at the end of 2012, county highway director Luke Mastin said.

Before the road work was done, motorists could drive around the line of cars waiting to get into Maple Grove Elementary, McMannis said. The maneuver wasn’t always safe, but it meant McMannis wouldn’t be late to work, he said.

With the median there, drivers don’t have enough room to get around traffic. And the turn lane isn’t long enough for all the vehicles turning into the school, McMannis said.

Those traffic jams also are a problem when emergency vehicles need to get east on Whiteland Road. Periodically police cars, ambulances and fire trucks have had to drive onto the median to get around cars when traffic is backed up, Mastin said.

“It’s not ideal, but in reality, we’re looking at small windows of time,” Mastin said.

Eventually Whiteland Road will be widened to four lanes, and when that happens there should be fewer traffic jams in front of Maple Grove Elementary and more room for police cars and fire trucks to get by traffic.

During the next several years, traffic along Whiteland Road is expected to increase, and a planned interchange on the future route of Interstate 69 along State Road 37 also could increase traffic along the road, Mastin said.

Until then, Mastin said he will be looking for ways to fund the project to further widen Whiteland Road, which could cost more than $2 million. Funding options could include saving or borrowing money for the project, or applying for federal funding, Mastin said.

“There are several different funding points that we can pursue, as we reach the point where widening needs to be done,” Mastin said.

Until that happens, Center Grove needs to decide on a temporary fix, Mastin said.

“If the school system is able to come up with an alternative traffic pattern, hopefully that will lessen, or eliminate, these backups,” Mastin said.

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