A proposal to widen Good Hope Road to accommodate heavy traffic at Good Hope Middle School in the afternoon could cost the parish about $1 million while another option might cost the school system some $100,000, parish officials say.
A project to replace the timber bridge on Good Hope Road south of the middle school is currently underway. While reviewing the project’s plans, the state Department of Development and Transportation asked the Ouachita Parish Police Jury whether the road would be widened in the future.
DOTD’s inquiry sparked a number of questions during the Police Jury’s regular meeting Monday.
Kevin Crosby, the parish’s consulting engineer, said the main cause of heavy traffic at Good Hope Middle School in the afternoons resulted from parents arriving at the school early to pick up their children.
“This isn’t a turning in and out problem,” Crosby said. “This is a problem of people getting to the school early. They don’t park on the side of the road. They park in the road, in the lane.”
There are about 621 students at Good Hope Middle School. Twelve buses transport most of the students, while some 230 students arrive at school in private vehicles.
“Once the parking lot fills up, they park in the road and they continue parking in the road until the deputy gets there,” Crosby said.
“Once he gets there, it’s a matter of two minutes before cars start leaving. The problem is for about 45 minutes before school lets out as the cars get there earlier and earlier so they can be one of the cars in the parking lot.”
According to Crosby, engineering’s review of the traffic problem found that traffic at the middle school emptied in about 10 minutes after students were released.
Spending $1 million to eliminate heavy traffic for 30 minutes to an hour was not worth it, according to Crosby.
That was especially the case since the Ouachita Parish School Board owned property near the middle school that could be turned into a paved pick-up lane for parents.
“The School Board could pave an area by the school into basically a road with a cul-de-sac that would cost about $100,000,” Crosby said.
According to Police Juror Walt Caldwell, heavy traffic problems at some of the newer schools in the parish school system might have been prevented if the School Board had sought the Police Jury’s input on traffic and roadway needs.
“Never has the School Board approached, to my recollection, the Police Jury before they built the school about traffic,” Caldwell said.
Police Jury President Shane Smiley noted that a handful of the most recently built schools in the parish school system had significant traffic flow problems.
“Let’s not beat up on the School Board, but let’s acknowledge we got three schools with traffic flow problems,” Smiley said.
Police Jury Vice President Jack Clampit suggested that Good Hope Middle School could solve the traffic flow problem by forbidding parents from arriving at the school prior to 2:30 p.m. That was the solution reached by Calhoun Elementary School, he said.
“People were lining up at 1 p.m. to pick up their kids at 3 p.m.,” Clampit said. “The principal put her foot down and said there were no early check-outs allowed on Friday. It seems to have helped that problem.”
Police Juror Scotty Robinson asked Assistant District Attorney Jay Mitchell, who serves as the Police Jury’s legal counsel, to reach out to the School Board about possible remedies.
On another front, the Police Jury determined it was unfeasible to build a left turn lane on Wall Williams Road to ease traffic turning on to Good Hope Road.
“When school is in, traffic backs up almost to Darbonne Hills,” Crosby said. “The traffic keeps moving though. You’re never stopped for five minutes. Initially, we thought that two left turners were causing delays because right turners couldn’t slip by toward home. What’s actually happening is that the volume of cars coming from the north at Rocky Branch.”
“You can put a left turn lane in but it wouldn’t make a difference,” Crosby added.
The main delay to traffic occurs for 15 minutes from 7:30 a.m. to 7:45 a.m., according to parish officials.
It could cost some $150,000 to build a left-turn lane, if right-of-way was donated and utilities could be relocated without significant costs, Crosby said.
“What it’s really going to take is a light from DOTD,” Caldwell said. “And DOTD putting a light in will only happen when DOTD decides they want to do it.”
In other business, the Police Jury signed off on a change order of some $189,900 to complete the rehabilitation of Sycamore Lane. Sycamore Lane connects E Charmingdale Drive and Harmon Johnson Road in District F.
The project rehabbing Sycamore Lane was paid for through bonded indebtedness secured by sales tax revenues generated in the East Ouachita Economic Development District, otherwise known as the “east side tax.”
The change order’s amount totaled nearly $200,000 because of unforeseen problems with the base beneath Sycamore Lane, according to Crosby.
“This change order was required by conditions discovered after the roadway was opened up,” Mitchell said.
Including the change order, the project’s total rose to $1,064,212.
Interim Police Juror Kay Katz, who is representing District F until a new juror is elected, asked whether the change order’s amount was legally permissible.
“We do understand this was one of the worst roads in the parish and my predecessor was very interested in this project, but this is a pretty big change order,” Katz said.
Mitchell said there was no legal prohibition to a change order’s amount.
“It’s more than a typical change order which is why it attracts attention and ought to,” Mitchell said. “You’re 100 percent right. My math is this is below 20 percent. My rule of thumb is any change order over 10 percent should be closely (scrutinized).”
The Police Jury signed off on the change order.
Meanwhile, the Police Jury also recognized two employees for their years of service in the parish public works department: Timothy Ryan (5 years) and James Caples (15 years).
“We appreciate the service of those employees and congratulate them on their years of service,” Smiley said.