PATTERSON — After calls for assistance from school bus drivers, the DOTD met with local policy makers Tuesday to discuss the need for traffic regulation on U.S. 90.
State Department of Transportation and Development officials were in Patterson to learn more about specific complaints and explain options.
The group deemed points at which buses must cross the divided highway in Patterson — Lipari to Tiffany streets, Bernard Street to Enterprise Avenue and Railroad Avenue to Veterans Drive — “hot spots.” Essentially, these are places at which trouble is waiting for motorists.
Lassus Street to Crescent Acres Subdivision and Red Cypress Road to the east bound lanes of U.S. 90 also were identified as problem areas.
Superintendent Donald Aguillard said there are 373 students who live south of the railroad tracks in the hot spot zone. Five buses must cross U.S. 90 no less than 20 times a day to accomplish their transportation.
Meanwhile, there are more than 600 residents in Sugar Ridge Subdivision alone. Mayor Rodney Grogan also noted that the city grew by about 1,000 souls, most of them residing south of the tracks.
Patterson Councilman John Rentrop, a bus driver for 30 years, put the problem into perspective.
Bus drivers only have a certain amount of time to get children to school safely. That means they can’t stop on the side of the road and wait for inclement weather — such as rain or morning fog — to pass. Bus drivers can control their own actions when crossing a dangerous highway, but may not be able to see the driver in the far right lane of the highway who has not turned on his headlights in the fog, he said.
Because of weather conditions, Rentrop said he did not know what the solution at the hot spot intersections might be.
“If you can’t see a school bus in the fog, you can’t see a stop light or a police cruiser with its lights on,” he added.
Rentrop alone is responsible for the transportation of 170 children on his route, which requires him to get on and off U.S. 90 six times between Red Cypress Road and Calumet.
“It’s not if, it’s when something is going to happen,” he said.
The most congested intersection is at Lipari Street, he noted, where four buses must make two trips each across the tracks.
School children are not the only ones affected by the crossings.
Grogan said the intersection at Tiffany and Lipari is a problem between 3 p.m. and 4 p.m. as well when residents who are getting off of work stop at an area store to purchase beer.
Resident Ken Cooper of Henry Street asked specifically about turning lanes onto Catherine Street. He said he is afraid every day that he will be hit from behind while trying to turn onto that street to access the post office.
Churches located south of the railroad also have problems when their congregations are coming and going.
Word of Life Family Church and Bethel Pentecostal Fellowship, represented Tuesday by Rev. Lee Lamury and Rev. Marty Harden, respectively, also are affected.
Lamury noted that it sometimes takes church members 30 minutes to cross the highway when leaving his church.
The first solution sought by the city was a signal light in the area.
However, a signal light, said DOTD District Traffic Operations Engineer Ronald Bertinot, “is a spot treatment at one location.”
Unless absolutely necessary in specific situations, a signal can increase accidents by causing motorists to take chances they normally would not in an effort to make it through a light or across a roadway, he said.
A signal, though, is not the only option to improve conditions on a heavily traveled road like U.S. 90.
In the last few years, the DOTD has been trying to use more “corridor management,” Bertinot said, by closing specific median crossovers and improving the sections left open. Those improvements could include acceleration lanes, inside lanes or deceleration lanes with storage for cars waiting to turn.
The changes would cause motorists to drive a little longer distance, but would be safer because drivers have less “conflict points” with other motorists to worry about.
“It’s a little inconvenient, but you only have to worry about what’s coming left,” Bertinot explained.
Similar work is being done in Lafayette, he said, and the department is seeing “some push back from the community because they haven’t reaped the rewards yet.” However, the same types of corridor treatments have been done in other states, in similar rural areas experiencing growth, with success.
Police Chief Pat LaSalle said there have been 41 total accidents this year involving motorists crossing U.S. 90 within Patterson city limits. Three of those were at Veterans and U.S. 90 and 11 at Railroad and U.S. 90.
“This is something waiting to happen, a major accident. We don’t have the stats, but I live here,” the mayor told DOTD officials.
Bertinot explained that fatalities are not the only statistics used to determine traffic control needs. Specific national criteria that the state department follows include:
—Volume: There must be a high volume of traffic for a total of eight hours in any 24-hour period. That number depends on whether the road in question is two or four lanes wide.
—Delay: Workers conducting the survey count how long it takes for a specific vehicle to move from the back of the stack through the intersection at peak times.
—Near misses: Workers report how many times drivers take risks when trying to cross the highway.
—Crash data: The department looks at what type of crash could be prevented because of a signal or other flow control. All right angle crashes, known commonly as “T-bones,” are included regardless of injuries. Each could have been fatal, Bertinot said.
When asked by Grogan how long the promised corridor study of the Patterson area would take, DOTD officials said the city should have results some time in December.
Another idea bandied as a temporary solution is to place police officers at the various intersections to ferry buses and people leaving church across the highway at appropriate times.
“Every church in Patterson is going to want a police officer letting traffic out,” LaSalle noted, adding that his officers would assist the two churches in question.
As for the officers ferrying buses across the highway, Rev. Lamury noted that Berwick tried a similar process at Pattie Drive and La. 182.
“It lasted about eight months, and then we had a light,” he said, while noting that the light is absolutely necessary during school time, if a bit cumbersome at other times.
LaSalle said logistics would be difficult, as officers would have to be pulled from schools for escort duty. There isn’t enough manpower to do both, he said.
Rentrop offered to speak to bus drivers about using only specific crossovers to reduce the number of officers needed for ferry duty. LaSalle said that would help his situation tremendously. Rentrop noted that it would take some time, but could be done.
“Patterson will do what it has to with regards to schools and churches,” Grogan concluded.