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MPS talks traffic concerns at planned school site

MARSHALL — Getting through traffic around Marshall Middle School can sometimes take a while — especially in the mornings before school starts, a traffic study by engineering firm SEH said. And with plans to build a new elementary school nearby, Marshall Public Schools needs to figure out how to handle additional traffic from school buses and parents dropping off students.

While there currently aren’t any official plans set to deal with that challenge, it’s something that the school district, the city of Marshall, and designers for the new school are starting to work out. At a meeting Tuesday afternoon, representatives from MPS, the city and other community stakeholders weighed in on where to put the new school building and features like bus unloading zones.

The discussion was part of preparations for a bond project approved by voters this spring. The project will build a new elementary school to replace West Side Elementary on land near the current Marshall Middle School.

Currently, traffic around MMS is the heaviest in the mornings, according to study data collected in May. SEH representatives said they set up 13 traffic cameras at sites all around the middle school, including on Saratoga Street and C Street. Camera data showed that traffic at MMS and public intersections picked up the most before school, when there is morning rush traffic at the same time as student drop-offs. In the afternoons there was a lot of activity at the school, but it didn’t come at the same time as peak rush hour traffic, the study said.

Vehicles waiting to make left turns also play a big part in traffic conditions around the middle school. David Maroney, of ATS&R, the firm designing a the new elementary school, said ATS&R found there tended to be longer lines of traffic coming to MMS from the north, along Saratoga Street. Motorists waiting for an opening to turn left led to “stacks” of vehicles forming, he said.

But traffic patterns weren’t the only concerns to consider, community members said Tuesday. The school design will also have to balance the needs of school bus drivers, kids who walk or bike to school, and neighborhood residents.

Maroney showed the group a few different concept drawings, with different locations for the new school building, bus lanes and parking areas. One option, that drew some favorable comments, put the new school close enough to the middle school that the two schools could share an access lane for buses. In that drawing, access to the new school would be from Southview Drive.

At the same time, middle school staff and administrators said some parts of the proposal might not be ideal for MMS. The drawing showed a bus loading and unloading area that was closest to an entrance near the middle school auditorium. MMS principal Mary Kay Thomas pointed out that the auditorium entrance is on the opposite end of the school from most students’ classrooms. Having buses load and unload there would raise some questions about how to supervise students, especially in the afternoons, she said.

Middle school staff said it might work best to keep MMS’ current traffic flow for dropping off and picking up students, instead of changing the parking lots and traffic lanes.

An option to build a private drive connecting C Street and Southview Drive didn’t go over well with meeting participants. Jason Anderson, assistant Marshall city engineer, said that could create more traffic problems if there weren’t more controls at intersections in the area.

SEH representatives said the next step for the elementary school project will be to analyze how the estimated traffic activity at the new school could interact with traffic at the middle school. That information will be brought to future meetings on the school project.

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